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Yeast smell underpins partnership with fruit flies

The insects disperse fungi cells that produce alluring smells

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3:51pm, October 9, 2014
Fluorescent yeast cells

YEASTY NOTES  Fluorescent yeast cells (green) cling to a fruit fly’s leg. Scientists have learned that yeast make fruity-smelling chemicals, which attract fruit flies. The flies eat some of the yeast, but give others a lift to new locations.

Yeast produce fruity aromas that lure fruit flies to dinner. In return, the flies disperse the otherwise sedentary fungi, a new study suggests.

A gene called ATF1 allows Saccharomyces cerevisiae, also known as baker’s yeast or brewer’s yeast, to attract fruit flies, researchers demonstrate in the Oct. 23 Cell Reports.

The discovery puts the genetics and molecular biology of two commonly used laboratory organisms into ecological context, says Matthew Goddard, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Goddard’s group previously found that wild fruit flies carry S. cerevisiae. The new work helps explain the genetics underlying that interaction, he says.

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