Fruit Flies Feel Humidity with Dedicated Receptors

Drosophila antennae let the insects seek out moisture levels they like best.

Alison F. Takemura
Sep 1, 2016

DAMPNESS DETECTORS: Neurons expressing receptors responsive to humidity glow green in a structure of the D. melanogaster antenna. LUND UNIVERSITY, ANDERS ENJIN


The paper
A. Enjin et al., “Humidity sensing in Drosophila,” Curr Biol, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.03.049, 2016.

Muggy mystique
Scientists have known for decades that insects can sense their environment’s humidity. Fruit flies, for instance, have distinct relative humidity (RH) preferences: a recent study led by Marco Gallio of Northwestern University and Marcus Stensmyr of Lund University showed that a species from the Sonoran desert seeks out drier conditions, whereas an afrotropical species likes it muggy. The next step was to find out how the flies detect RH.

Sultry behavior
Humidity sensing is thought to occur in the antennae, so the team looked for ionotropic receptors expressed there whose function was unknown. Using mutants and RNAi to disrupt the functioning of any...

Editor's Note (September 7, 2016): The story has been updated to include Marcus Stensmyr's collaboration in the study.