Fatty Pheromones

A new class of pheromones, triacylglycerides, helps male fruit flies mark their mates to deter rivals.

Rina Shaikh-Lesko
Jul 1, 2014

SCENT OF A MALE: A male fruit fly ignores a female (lower right) smeared with a male pheromone, and mates with an untreated female (left). NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE, JACQUELINE S.R. CHIN

EDITOR'S CHOICE IN BIOCHEMISTRY

The paper
J.S.R. Chin et al., “Sex-specific triacylglycerides are widely conserved in Drosophila and mediate mating behavior,” eLife, doi:10.7554/eLife.01751, 2014.

The suspicion
Animals often relay sexual messages through pheromones, typically small, volatile organic molecules. In recent years, Joanne Yew at the National University of Singapore and others had spotted triacylglycerides (TAGs)—compounds usually found in fatty tissue—on the exterior of fruit flies, a pattern hinting that they might be pheromones.

The scrutiny
In Yew’s latest study, her team found TAGs on a dozen desert-dwelling Drosophila species—including 13 different TAGs on two species alone—by using a mass spectrometer with a fine-point laser trained on the flies’ cuticle surface. “They’re secreted in just one region—the anogenital...