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Fruit fly social behavior revealed by a new assay

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 — Poster Session IV

2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Natcher Conference Center




  • ED Burg
  • SR Taylor
  • HA Nash


The fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, has been successfully used to study circuits that subserve both sensory processing and operantly conditioned behaviors. However, little is known about social interactions among flies. We have developed a new assay in which the social aggregation of flies is robust and independent of mating signals. Wildtype flies, introduced into an enclosed platform in which movement is limited to two dimensions, settle into tightly packed aggregates. This aggregation is light-dependent and disrupted by general volatile anesthetics. Furthermore, aggregation is not dependent on the previously characterized Drosophila sex pheromone, cis-vaccenyl acetate; prior socialization; age; or sex. To determine sensory inputs and portions of the central nervous system necessary for the behavior, we will test both olfactory and visual system mutants as well as flies in which various portions of the CNS have been silenced. This assay lends itself to the identification of candidate genes for social behavior. Preliminary results with flies mutant for neuroligin 3, a homolog of a gene thought to be involved in autism, suggest that this gene plays a role in social aggregation. Taken together, these results will elucidate both biological variables and parts of the nervous system involved in fly social aggregation.

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