Gustatory Perception and Behavior in Drosophila melanogaster
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The sense of taste is essential for the survival of virtually all animals. Considered a 'primitive sense' and present in the form of chemotaxis in many bacteria, taste is also a sense of sophistication in humans. Regardless, taste behavior is a crucial activity for the world's most abundant (insects) and most successful (mammals) inhabitants, providing a means of discrimination between nutrient-rich substrates, such as sugars and amino acids, from harmful, mostly bitter-tasting chemicals present in many plants. In this review, we present an update on progress in understanding taste perception in the model fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. An introduction to the fly's taste system will be presented first, followed by a description of relevant behavioral assays developed to quantify taste perception at the organismal level and a short overview of electrophysiological studies performed on taste cells. The focal point will be the recent molecular-genetic investigations of the gustatory receptor (Gr) genes, which is complemented by a comparison between Drosophila and mammalian taste perception and transduction. Finally, we provide a perspective on the future of Drosophila taste research, including three specific proposals that seem uniquely applicable to this exquisite model system and cannot, at least currently, be pursued elsewhere.
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