A new collaborative study led by scientists from VIB, KU Leuven and NERF shows that the fruity volatiles produced by yeast cells are highly appealing to fruit flies. This attraction allows some yeast cells to hitch a ride with the insects, who carry the otherwise immobile microbes to new food sources. Moreover, deleting ATF1, the key yeast gene driving aroma synthesis, all but abolishes the attraction of flies to the mutants. Additionally, the brain activity in flies that are exposed to such aroma-mutants is very different from that in flies exposed to normal, fruity yeasts.
The team believes that these findings have far-reaching implications. “We all know that flowers attract insects by producing aromas. But there’s also a lot of microbes living inside flowers, and the chemicals they produce may also play an important role” says Joaquin Christiaens (VIB/KU Leuven), who performed the experiments with yeast cells. Luis Franco (Yaksi Lab, NERF - VIB/KU Leuven), who performed the fly assays, agrees “There’s a lot to be learnt about the mutualism between insects and microbes, and some of what we find may have implications in agriculture and medicine. Don’t forget that insects also carry disease-causing microbes…”
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Christiaens JF† Franco LM†, Cools T, De Meester L, Michiels J, Wenseleers T, Hassan BA, YaksiE* and Verstrepen KJ,* (2014) The fungal aroma gene ATF1 promotes dispersal of yeast cells through insect vectors. († Equal Contributions,* co-last corresponding authors) “The Fungal Aroma Gene ATF1 Promotes Dispersal of Yeast Cells through Insect Vectors.”, Cell Reports, Volume 9, Issue 2, p425–432, (2014)