September 17, 2009

Fruit flies capable of social learning

Canadian scientists say they've discovered the fruit fly is capable of intricate social learning, much like humans.

The McMaster University study found inexperienced female fruit flies, known as Drosophila melanogaster, can learn from their more experienced counterparts, mated fruit flies.

The researchers, led by Associate Professor Reuven Dukas and graduate student Sachin Sarin, said they found that when the novices landed on decaying fruit where the mated females had laid their eggs, the novices later preferred to lay their eggs in the same place rather than seek other ripe fruit.

Dukas said the findings suggests even solitary insects can exhibit social learning, which raises the possibility that learning from each other has promoted the evolution of socializing among insects as a survival mechanism.

The fruit fly is much more sophisticated than many people think or really want to believe, Dukas added. It shares many of the same genes and the same compounds that control learning in humans. This first documentation of social learning in fruit flies opens up exciting avenues for research on the evolution and neurogenetics of social learning.

The study appears in the online edition of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.