University of California, Riverside

UCR Newsroom



The Buzz Around Beer


The Buzz Around Beer

UC Riverside entomologists explain why flies are attracted to beer and products of yeast fermentation

(November 17, 2011)

NEWS MEDIA CONTACT

Name: Iqbal Pittalwala
Tel: (951) 827-6050
E-mail:
Flies are attracted to beer because they detect glycerol, a sweet-tasting compound that yeasts make during fermentation.  Photo credit: Dahanukar lab, UC Riverside.  (More photos below.)Enlarge

Flies are attracted to beer because they detect glycerol, a sweet-tasting compound that yeasts make during fermentation. Photo credit: Dahanukar lab, UC Riverside. (More photos below.)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Ever wondered why flies are attracted to beer? Entomologists at the University of California, Riverside have, and offer an explanation. They report that flies sense glycerol, a sweet-tasting compound that yeasts make during fermentation.

“Insects use their taste system to glean important information about the quality and nutritive value of food sources,” said Anupama Dahanukar, an assistant professor of entomology, whose lab conducted the research. “Sugars signal high nutritive value to flies, but little is known about which chemical cues flies use for food sources that are low in sugar content – such as beer.”

Dahanukar’s lab examined the feeding preference of the common fruit fly for beer and other products of yeast fermentation, and found that a receptor (a protein that serves as a gatekeeper) that is associated with neurons located in the fly’s mouth-parts is instrumental in signaling a good taste for beer.

The receptor in question is Gr64e. Once a fly has settled on beer, Gr64e detects glycerol and transmits this information to the fly’s neurons, which then influences the fly’s behavioral response.

Dahanukar explained that flies use other receptors in their sensory organs to find food from a distance.

“Taste becomes important only after the fly makes physical contact with food,” she said. “A fly first locates food sources using its odor receptors – crucial for its long-range attraction to food. Then, after landing on food, the fly uses its taste system to sample the food for suitability in terms of nutrition and toxicity.”

Dahanukar, a member of UCR’s Institute for Integrative Genome Biology, explained that taste receptors also come into play when a female fly has to locate a suitable site for laying eggs.

“Females come to a decision after they have conducted intense probing of various potential sites,” she said.

Study results appeared online Nov. 6 in Nature Neuroscience.

Dahanukar was joined in the project by Zev Wisotsky, Adriana Medina, and Erica Freeman – all of whom work in her lab.

Wisotsky, a neuroscience graduate student and the first author of the research paper, performed the imaging, taste electrophysiology and behavior experiments. He was joined in his efforts by Freeman, a bioengineering graduate student, who performed the olfactory recordings; and Medina, a junior specialist in entomology, who performed the feeding preference experiments and molecular analysis.

The lab is poised now to move the research forward.

“How do you get information from the chemical environment to the brain – not just in flies but other insects as well?” Dahanukar said. “How is that information processed to give rise to appropriate behavior? How does feeding behavior change with hunger? These are some questions we would like pursue.”

The research project was supported in part by a Whitehall Foundation research grant to Dahanukar and a fellowship from the National Science Foundation Integrated Graduate Education Research and Training Program in Video Bioinformatics to Freeman.
Anupama Dahanukar is an assistant professor of entomology at UC Riverside.  Photo credit: UCR Strategic Communications.Enlarge

Anupama Dahanukar is an assistant professor of entomology at UC Riverside. Photo credit: UCR Strategic Communications.

Graduate student Zev Wisotsky (seated) is the first author of the research paper and works in the lab of Anupama Dahanukar, seen here behind him.  Photo credit: UCR Strategic Communications.Enlarge

Graduate student Zev Wisotsky (seated) is the first author of the research paper and works in the lab of Anupama Dahanukar, seen here behind him. Photo credit: UCR Strategic Communications.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. UCR also has ISDN for radio interviews. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.

More Information 

General Campus Information

University of California, Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

Department Information

Media Relations
900 University Avenue
1156 Hinderaker Hall
Riverside, CA 92521

Tel: (951) 827-6397 (951) UCR-NEWS
Fax: (951) 827-5008

Related Links

Footer