Evolution of fatty acid taste in drosophilids
Comparative studies of related but ecologically-distinct species can reveal how thenervous system evolves to drive behaviors that are particularly suited to a given environment. Drosophila melanogaster is a generalist that feeds and oviposits on most overripe fruits. A related species, D. sechellia, is an obligate specialist of Morinda citrifolia (noni) fruit, which is rich in fatty acids (FAs). To understand evolution of noni taste preference, we characterized behavioral and cellular responses to noni-associated FAs in three related drosophilids. We find that mixtures of sugar and noni FAs evoke strong aversion in the generalist species, but not in D. sechellia. Surveys of taste sensory responses reveal noni FA- and species-specific differences in at least two mechanisms – bitter neuron activation and sweet neuron inhibition – that correlate with shifts in noni preference. Chemoreceptor mutant analysis in D. melanogaster predicts that multiple genetic changes account for evolution of gustatory preference in D.sechellia.