Biology Seminar | Pinky K. Sharma
January 21 @ 1:30 pm - 2:30 pm
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Title: Gustatory processing: Understanding taste and its modulation using Drosophila melanogaster as a model system
Abstract: Taste is an essential sensory modality that influences food intake and allows animals to evaluate the palatability, the nutritional content of food sources, and avoid the consumption of toxic food. Nutrient homeostasis and its tight regulation is critical for overall health. In humans, abnormal nutrient consumption and alterations in taste sensitivities are a major cause of obesity and various metabolic issues. Despite this burden on society, the role of internal taste organs (pharynx, gut) and neural circuits that regulate appetite and influence feeding behaviors are not fully understood. Gustatory receptors relay sensory signals to the brain, which segregates, evaluates, distinguishes the stimuli, and orchestrate observable taste driven behaviors (acceptance or rejection). To understand the neural basis of taste preference and the causal relationship between taste identities and behavior, we are using the genetic model system Drosophila melanogaster that can sense the same taste stimuli as mammals (sweet, sour, water, salt, umami, and bitter). By exploiting the gustatory system of flies, my lab is interested in understanding how the fruit flies make feeding decisions? Specifically, we are interested in understanding how taste information is wired in the brain and how it gets modulated by physiological state, intrinsic and extrinsic factors. By using the Drosophila neurogenetics toolbox, imaging, and behavioral assays, our ongoing progress to understand how feeding behavior is organized and modulated will be discussed. Understanding how taste preferences reshape taste curves to promote overconsumption of food in flies leading to overeating and metabolic issues can help in understand underlying mechanisms that drive changes in the neural activity as well. Answering this question may open up avenues to reduce diet-related diseases and other neurological disorders and ultimately, how neural pathways can be targeted for better drug treatment. Insect-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and chikungunya are transmitted via feeding behaviors. The results from simple model systems like Drosophila could potentially be applied to safe and cost-effective pest control by improving insect trapping strategies and thus reduce pathogen transmission by insects and greatly benefit the agricultural industry.