Sexually Rejected Flies Turn to Booze

Sarah C.P. Williams
Science NOW

Offer a male fruit fly a choice between food soaked in alcohol and its nonalcoholic equivalent, and his decision will depend on whether he’s mated recently or been rejected by a female. Flies that have been given the cold shoulder are more likely to go for the booze, researchers have found. It’s the first discovery, in fruit flies, of a social interaction that influences future behavior.

“This is an amazing link,” says neurogeneticist Troy Zars of the University of Missouri, Columbia, who was not involved in the study. Understanding the brain pathways responsible, he says, could help explain more broadly how rewarding behavior is reflected in the brain, and how the brain mediates complex behaviors.

Scientists already knew that when fruit flies drink alcohol, reward pathways in their brains are activated, making it a “pleasurable” experience. They also knew that social interactions are among the most rewarding experiences. So researchers led by neuroscientist Galit Shohat-Ophir, who conducted the work at the University of California, San Francisco, but who has now moved to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia, wanted to see whether the two types of rewards were connected in the brain. “This was just a wild experiment to do,” she says. “We didn’t expect to see such dramatic results.”

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