TEXAS A&M (US)—The tiny tongue of a fruit fly could provide big answers to questions about human eating habits, possibly even leading to new ways to treat obesity.
Researchers at Texas A&M University examined the taste organs on Drosophila’s proboscis (tongue), which triggers the minute fruit fly’s desire to eat or not to eat. They found that several factors, especially the creature’s internal daily clock, determine feeding behaviors—and these same taste sensitivities very likely apply to humans.
Details of the study are reported in the new issue of the journal Current Biology.
“The ‘clock’ that influences this decision to eat or not to eat is found inside the taste sensing cells, which send a signal to eat,” explains Paul Hardin, Distinguished Professor of Biology.
“Once this signal is sent, the brain then tells the fly to eat or not, but all of this seems to depend on the time of day. These clocks have a very direct link to its eating habits.”
Drosophila, commonly called fruit flies and smaller than a grain of rice, are found worldwide and there about 1,500 species. The word is a Latin phrase for “dew loving.”
Like most flies, they have a natural instinct to seek out food “and they are always looking for something to eat,” Hardin adds.
“These inner clocks control the sensitivity to food and also affect how much the flies eat. We found that the highest sensitivity to sugar is in the daytime, and far less at night. But we found that if you eliminate these clocks, the flies will eat much more food. So these clocks seem to suppress the desire for food at certain times of day.”
Hardin notes that there are obvious parallels that could be drawn comparing the desire for food by the fruit flies and the human desire for food.
“It’s long been established that as humans, we have clocks, too,” he adds. “If clocks in our taste-sensing cells also control when and how much we eat, it could greatly impact weight gain. Understanding how these clocks control eating could potentially lead to ways to combat obesity.
“By looking closely at factors that control Drosophila’s desire to eat, we can draw comparisons to human eating behaviors,” Hardin says. “If we could adjust the key internal clocks, we might be able to control food consumption and, of course, that would be a big step in the fight against obesity.”
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