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This blog is currently on hiatus owing to work commitments. Whilst I still keep an eye on the goings on at RiAus, and contribute to the work of the good folks at eLife, little will be added to this blog for the foreseeable future. Simon Says remains open for business, albeit at a reduced capacity. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope the archive of content found here will prove to be of interest.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

No flies were tormented in the making of this blog post

ONE of the more memorable practicals I got to do as an undergraduate student involved the recording of proboscis extension in house flies in response to sugar. It was all about sensory perception and sensitivity, and it required us to immobilize a poor fly on to a wooden splint, then watch its response — as measured by how much it extended its proboscis, an event that precedes feeding — to varying sugar solution concentrations, as well as other, less palatable foodstuffs.

It was memorable not for the result but because it was a monumental failure: the poor flies didn’t take kindly to the burning wax required to fix them to the splint, and the few whose wings had not been singed stubbornly refused to behave, probably in protest. Unsurprisingly, and reassuringly, that practical is no longer run, but I will never forget the experience.

So it came as some surprise to stumble across a new paper in the journal Neuron this month on the response of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster to varying sugar solution concentrations, as measured by proboscis extension. And a rather nifty experiment it is too, expanding the framework of my undergraduate practical to a much smaller organism and on a far smaller level. While such a paper might not grab headlines, it struck me as an excellent model from which to introduce some of the techniques that they used. Plus, it just happens to be on the organism I work with daily.