PASADENA, Calif., Dec. 10 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they have identified a pheromone that controls fruit fly aggression and discovered neurons in the fly's antenna that detect the pheromone.
California Institute of Technology scientists said pheromones are chemicals used for communication and behavioral control, and synthetic forms of some pheromones can even elicit aggression in some insects.
But Caltech Professor David Anderson said it's been difficult to prove aggression is normally governed by pheromones.
"Obtaining such proof required the ability to experimentally interfere with the insects' capacity to sense the pheromone," Anderson said. "And that, in turn, necessitated identification of the receptor molecules that detect aggression pheromones, and of the olfactory sensory neurons that express these receptors."
But a graduate student in Anderson's lab, Liming Wang, the first author of the study, discovered a pheromone present in the male fly's cuticle that promotes aggression in pairs of male flies.
Wang and Anderson then exposed flies to a synthetic version of that pheromone and saw it dramatically increased the flies' aggressive behavior. They also discovered blocking pheromone receptor neurons in the fly's antenna blocked the ability of the synthetic pheromone to promote aggression.
The research is reported in the journal Nature.