Love at first sniff? Sexiest fruit fly females show specific insulin signaling

Love at first sniff? Sexiest fruit fly females show specific insulin signaling

What do males really want? If you’re a female fruit fly, pheromone-mediated insulin signaling may hold the key to your attraction. That’s according to a new PLOS Genetics study, whose authors found that female flies manipulated to have increased insulin signaling in their follicle cells, which support egg production, and decreased signaling in their fat body, the energy storage organ, appeared to be more attractive to males.

A female fruit fly must balance her energy usage between making eggs now and storing nutrients for later, and males would be expected to favor a female who appears to prioritize egg production, increasing her fecundity. Differences in tissue-specific insulin signaling likely affect the pheromones produced by the female flies, making them smell different to males – with natural selection favoring males who find the more fertile females attractive.

The authors also verified that such insulin signaling is a reliable mate quality indicator for the males: those females engineered to have increased insulin signaling in their follicle cells did indeed produce more offspring. Even fruit flies may therefore be capable of accurately assessing mate fitness. Love may be blind to many things – but not, it would seem, to pheromones.

Research Article: Fedina TY, Arbuthnott D, Rundle HD, Promislow DEL, Pletcher SD (2017) Tissue-specific insulin signaling mediates female sexual attractiveness. PLoS Genet 13(8): e1006935. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1006935

Image Credit: C. Gendron

Author

Beth works at PLOS as Journal Media Manager. She read Natural Sciences, specializing in Pathology, at the University of Cambridge before joining PLOS in 2013. She feels fortunate to be able to read and write about the exciting new research published by PLOS.

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