How Flies (& Maybe Humans) Select Their Food

Why do you crave certain foods at times? Why do you tend to choose sweet foods but your friend tends to choose savory foods? And how do flies help us better understand the answers to these questions? 

Sections:
  1. A Fly’s Taste Palate & Why We Care About It
  2. So How do Flies Decide? (the Research)
  3. Can We Control What Foods the Flies Pick?
  4. Application to Humans

(TL;DR and Glossary at the bottom 😊)

Approximate Read Time: 5 minutes!


A Fly’s Taste Palate & Why We Care About It

Flies have a particularly picky palate when it comes to their food. They seem to be able to pick out foods that are sweet and nutritious (calorie-rich) while avoiding foods that are bitter, sour, and/or non-nutritious. 

But why are flies this picky about their food? And why do we want to study this behavior? 

Scientists conjure that at a neurological level, the behavior of flies selecting food may teach us about how humans make similar decisions in selecting their food. 


So How do Flies Decide? (the Research)

Researchers from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut tricked fruit flies (their test subjects) to study how they picked their food. 

How did they trick the fruit flies?

Well, the scientists gave the fruit flies the choice between sweet and calorie-rich food covered with a bitter quinine and a less sweet and less calorie-rich food. The fruit flies made their decisions, and while they did, the researchers tracked the flies’ neural activity through neuroimaging. 

So was nutrition (the amount of calories) or taste more important to the flies?

It turns out that, simply enough, it depends on how hungry the flies are! The hungrier the fly, the more likely the fly will choose calories over taste.

“It depends on how hungry they are. The hungrier they are, the more likely they will tolerate bitter taste to obtain more calories.”

Michael Nitabach, professor of cellular and molecular physiology, genetics, and neuroscience at Yale School of Medicine

Can We Control What Foods the Flies Pick?

Short answer? Yes!

Flies relay sensory information to the fan-shaped body, which is the brain region in insects that is in charge of making decisions. 

The scientists discovered that they could manipulate neurons in the fan-shaped body to control what food the fly chose! 

For example, a decrease in neuronal activity in the region that controls metabolism made hungry flies choose the lower calorie food rather than the higher-calorie food. This finding shows that food impacts brain activity & that brain activity impacts choice in food.

“It is one big feedback loop, not just top-down decision making.”

Michael Nitabach, professor of cellular and molecular physiology, genetics, and neuroscience at Yale School of Medicine

Application to Humans

The fruit and fly and us humans are connected in that our sensation of reward is determined by the neuropeptides and dopamine levels in our brains. Changes in the amount of these chemicals change how we perceive different foods.

This is an incredible study because it allows us to better understand how our brains impact our behavior and our perception of food.

“The study provides a template to understand how it is that things like hunger and internal emotional states influence our behavior.” Michael Nitabach, professor of cellular and molecular physiology, genetics, and neuroscience at Yale School of Medicine

These findings may have implications towards eating disorder treatments / research. 

What are your thoughts on this research?

Thank you for reading this piece. I hope you enjoyed it & will further ponder the knowledge it brings to light. I encourage you to leave a comment and/or start a discussion in the section below! 

Feel free to contact me at brainsproutblog@gmail.com and follow the blog @brainsproutblog on Instagram or Twitter for updates!


TL;DR:

  • Scientists conjure that at a neurological level, the behavior of flies selecting food may teach us about how humans make similar decisions in selecting their food. 
  • Using neuroimaging on fruit flies, scientists from Yale discovered that the hungrier the fly, the more likely the fly will choose calories over taste
  • The scientists also discovered that they could manipulate neurons in the fan-shaped body brain region of flies to control what food the fly chose! 
  • This is an incredible study because it allows us to better understand how our brains impact our behavior and our perception of food

Glossary:

  • Fan-shaped body: a multi-layer region localized at the center of a fly’s brain that plays a role in body regulation as well as decision-making
  • Neuroimaging: the process of producing images of the structure of activity of the brain
  • Quinine: a bitter crystalline compound
  • Top-down decision making: the use of contextual information in pattern recognition

Read more (sources)!

  1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-24423-y 
  2. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210705094725.htm 
  3. https://news.yale.edu/2021/07/05/more-filling-tastes-great-how-flies-and-maybe-people-choose-their-food 
  4. https://www.labmanager.com/news/more-filling-tastes-great-how-flies-and-maybe-people-choose-their-food-26225 

Image Sources:

  1. https://www.labmanager.com/news/more-filling-tastes-great-how-flies-and-maybe-people-choose-their-food-26225
  2. https://news.yale.edu/2021/07/05/more-filling-tastes-great-how-flies-and-maybe-people-choose-their-food
  3. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210705094725.htm 

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