fruit flies on a lemon slice

Insights into the diets of the tiny common fruit fly may help provide understandings into how humans evolved to eat what we eat, according to new research published in Cell Reports and a press release from Kyoto University.

The common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, can eat a wide range of foods and is called a nutritional generalist (humans are also nutritional generalists). There are some fruit fly species that are genetic cousins to D. melanogaster that have very strict diets (nutritional specialists). The experiment involved investigating whether the larvae of Drosophila species (categorized as either generalists and specialists) could get used to three different diets that the researchers developed: high protein, high carbohydrate, and medium protein-carbohydrate. The generalist larvae, which included the common fruit fly, grew under all diets and the specialists only survived under the high-protein diet. A team of researchers from Kyoto University found that there are differences in a genetic signaling pathway that regulates the body’s response to carbohydrates in nutritional generalists and nutritional specialists.

“Various species in nature show complex adaptations to diverse environments, whose underlying mechanisms still remain to be elucidated,” write the researchers in the study. “Our interspecies comparative study provides a powerful approach to understand how environment-responsive systems function and how they can evolve through genome-environment interactions.”

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