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Fecal-Derived Phenol Induces Egg-Laying Aversion in Drosophila

  • Suzan Mansourian
  • Jacob Corcoran
  • Anders Enjin
  • Christer Löfstedt
  • Marie Dacke
  • Marcus C. Stensmyr
Publishing year: 2016-10-24
Language: English
Pages: 2762-2769
Publication/Series: Current Biology
Volume: 26
Issue: 20
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Elsevier

Abstract english

Feces is an abundant, rich source of energy, utilized by a myriad of organisms, not least by members of the order Diptera, i.e., flies. How Drosophila melanogaster reacts to fecal matter remains unclear. Here, we examined oviposition behavior toward a range of fecal samples from mammals native to the putative Southeast African homeland of the fly. We show that D. melanogaster display a strong oviposition aversion toward feces from carnivorous mammals but indifference or even attraction toward herbivore dung. We identify a set of four predictor volatiles, which can be used to differentiate fecal from non-fecal matter, as well as separate carnivore from herbivore feces. Of these volatiles, phenol—indicative of carnivore feces—confers egg-laying aversion and is detected by a single class of sensory neurons expressing Or46a. The Or46a-expressing neurons are necessary and sufficient for oviposition site aversion. We further demonstrate that carnivore feces—unlike herbivore dung—contain a high rate of pathogenic bacteria taxa. These harmful bacteria produce phenol from L-tyrosine, an amino acid specifically enriched in high protein diets, such as consumed by carnivores. Finally, we demonstrate that carnivore feces, as well as phenol, is also avoided by a ball-rolling species of dung beetle, suggesting that phenol is a widespread avoidance signal because of its association with pathogenic bacteria.


  • Zoology
  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


  • ISSN: 0960-9822
Marie Dacke
E-mail: marie [dot] dacke [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se


Functional zoology

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