October 24, 2020

Alcohol boosts pheromone production in male flies and makes them sexier

The attraction of Drosophila melanogaster towards byproducts of alcoholic fermentation, especially ethanol, has been extensively studied. However, the adaptive value of this behavior has not been elucidated. Previous studies have suggested anthropomorphic interpretations of D. melanogaster behavior towards alcohols. Here, we instead assert that there exists a simple yet vital biological rationale for alcohol contact and consumption by these insects. We show that exposure to alcohols, especially methanol, results in an immediate amplification of fatty acid ester pheromone levels, which in turn elevates the probability that a male will successfully compete for a female during courtship. We proceed to identify three types of olfactory sensory neurons that detect ethanol and methanol. Moreover, we trace the ensuing neural circuits and reveal their role in controlling both attraction and aversion, where valence is balanced around mating status. Based on our results, we deduce that male flies associate with sources of alcohol as a biological imperative related to reproduction, and we provide an assessment of how and why D. melanogaster is associated with alcohol using a sound ecological and natural history approach to this previously enigmatic biological phenomenon.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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