The result suggests that microbes in the gut may affect how the brain controls movement
Researchers have found a new link between gut and brain.
By signaling to nerve cells in the brain, certain microbes in the gut slow a fruit fly’s walking pace, scientists report. Fruit flies missing those microbes — and that signal — turn into hyperactive speed walkers.
With the normal suite of gut microbes, Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies on foot cover an average of about 2.4 millimeters a second. But fruit flies without any gut microbes zip along at about 3.5 millimeters a second, Catherine Schretter, a biologist at Caltech, and her colleagues report October 24 in Nature. These flies with missing microbes also take shorter breaks and are more active during the day.
“Our work suggests that microbes assist in maintaining a certain level of locomotion,” Schretter says.
For still mysterious reasons, the bacterial influence on walking speed occurred only in female fruit flies, not males. Studying that difference will be “a very interesting potential direction for this work,” Schretter says.
It’s not known whether bacteria influence movement in people and other mammals, but the results raise that possibility. Other studies hint that gut bacteria may have roles in other behaviors, such as appetite, and even mood (SN: 4/2/16, p. 23).
C.E. Schretter et al. A gut microbial factor modulates locomotor behaviour in Drosophila. Nature. Published online October 24, 2018. doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0634-9.
L. Sanders. Microbes can play games with the mind. Science News. Vol. 189, April 2, 2016, p. 23.