Fecal-Derived Phenol Induces Egg-Laying Aversion in Drosophila

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Feces is an abundant, rich source of energy, utilized by a myriad of organisms, not least by members of the order Diptera, i.e., flies. How Drosophila melanogaster reacts to fecal matter remains unclear. Here, we examined oviposition behavior toward a range of fecal samples from mammals native to the putative Southeast African homeland of the fly. We show that D. melanogaster display a strong oviposition aversion toward feces from carnivorous mammals but indifference or even attraction toward herbivore dung. We identify a set of four predictor volatiles, which can be used to differentiate fecal from non-fecal matter, as well as separate carnivore from herbivore feces. Of these volatiles, phenol—indicative of carnivore feces—confers egg-laying aversion and is detected by a single class of sensory neurons expressing Or46a. The Or46a-expressing neurons are necessary and sufficient for oviposition site aversion. We further demonstrate that carnivore feces—unlike herbivore dung—contain a high rate of pathogenic bacteria taxa. These harmful bacteria produce phenol from L-tyrosine, an amino acid specifically enriched in high protein diets, such as consumed by carnivores. Finally, we demonstrate that carnivore feces, as well as phenol, is also avoided by a ball-rolling species of dung beetle, suggesting that phenol is a widespread avoidance signal because of its association with pathogenic bacteria.

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Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Zoology
  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2762-2769
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Biology
Volume26
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Oct 24
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes

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