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UCR Researchers Show How Insect Food Choice Can Be Manipulated


(Photo: Image shows mouthparts in wild type flies (left). Pharyngeal taste neurons marked by green fluorescent proteins are shown in three different pharyngeal taste organs in the distal (red), middle (blue), and proximal (purple) parts of the pharynx.Image credit: Dahanukar lab, UC Riverside.)

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have found a way to access and manipulate taste neurons in the pharynx (throat) of the common fruit fly that could help control the spread of mosquito-related illnesses, such as dengue, malaria, yellow fever, and Zika virus, and reduce the loss of crops due to agricultural pests.

In insects, taste receptors are found in neurons present in external taste hairs on wings, legs and mouthparts, as well as in internal taste organs in the pharynx. Most researchers studying taste focus only on the external taste hairs, however, and overlook the pharynx, which is harder to access.

The UC Riverside researchers were able to examine the molecular identities of pharyngeal neurons in the fruit fly by making the neurons fluorescent. The fluorescence helped them understand, at a molecular level, how the pharyngeal neurons were organized.

“Using transgenic flies, we were able to examine the expression of fluorescent proteins designed to reflect patterns of chemosensory receptors in pharyngeal taste neurons in the fly and draw a precise molecular map of these organs, which has not been done before,” says Anupama Dahanukar, who led the research project. “We were also able to manipulate selected groups of these neurons to figure out whether they inform the fly to eat certain foods or to avoid them.”

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