A whiff of a rage-inducing pheromone can turn peaceful fruit flies into violent brawlers.
The scent of a single chemical can turn peaceful, happy fruit flies into flying fists of fury.
For the first time, scientists have found a rage-inducing pheromone and the neuron that detects it in fruit flies. The research, detailed in the journal Nature, could help explain everything from bar fights to species-wide population control.
"Not only did we identify the pheromone that leads to aggression and its neuron," said David Anderson, a scientist at Cal Tech and co-author of the Nature study, "but we were able to manipulate the ability of the flies to increase aggression."
For the most part, fruit flies are a peaceful species. Give a group of flies a piece of food, and they graze peacefully. Give them some land, and they usually share the territory without incident.
These idyllic scenes, however, can quickly turn violent. Drop filter paper soaked in artificially produced pheromone, known as 11-cis-vaccenylacetate (CVA), into the air around six flies, and they quickly start karate chopping and judo wrestling their opponents, rearing up on their hind legs and snapping down violently, and grappling with their forelegs.