University Of Tasmania

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Detection of volatile indicators of illicit substances by the olfactory receptors of Drosophila melanogaster

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 02:41 authored by Marshall, B, Coral WarrCoral Warr, de Bruyne, M
Insects can detect a large range of odors with a numerically simple olfactory system that delivers high sensitivity and accurate discrimination. Therefore, insect olfactory receptors hold great promise as biosensors for detection of volatile organic chemicals in a range of applications. The array of olfactory receptor neurons of Drosophila melanogaster is rapidly becoming the best-characterized natural nose. We have investigated the suitability of Drosophila receptors as detectors for volatiles with applications in law enforcement, emergency response, and security. We first characterized responses of the majority of olfactory neuron types to a set of diagnostic odorants. Being thus able to correctly identify neurons, we then screened for responses from 38 different types of neurons to 35 agents. We identified 13 neuron types with responses to 13 agents. As individual Drosophila receptor genes have been mapped to neuron types, we can infer which genes confer responsiveness to the neurons. The responses were confirmed for one receptor by expressing it in a nonresponsive neuron. The fly olfactory system is mainly adapted to detect volatiles from fermenting fruits. However, our findings establish that volatiles associated with illicit substances, many of which are of nonnatural origin, are also detected by Drosophila receptors.


Publication title

Chemical Senses










Tasmanian School of Medicine


Oxford Univ Press

Place of publication

Great Clarendon St, Oxford, England, Ox2 6Dp

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences