For most of us, the scent of decomposing organic matter is the last thing on our minds when we're...in the mood. But now scientists have shown that, at least for fruit flies, the smell of ripe and rotting fruit is the ultimate turn-on.
Could this help explain why other creatures, like humans, often associate food with sex?
Just one whiff flips the switch on courtship-initiating brain pathways. And while scientists have known for some time that these pathways could compel male flies to strut their stuff and initiate mating, what they didn't know was that these behaviors could be triggered with a smell.
"This is one of the first cases of a food aphrodisiac, a specific sensory pathway in the olfactory [smelling] system that triggers sexual behaviors," said Swiss researcher Richard Benton, who led the study.
The team happened upon the link between sex and olfaction while investigating the sense of smell in fruit flies. When they realized that one of the brain-pathways they'd discovered had been shown previously to regulate sexual behavior, things got interesting.
By testing over 160 different odors, the team found three compounds that could turn the flies on: phenylacetaldehyde, phenylacetic acid, and phenylethylamine — chemicals commonly found in fermenting fruits and plants. Their findings reveal an interesting evolutionary link between feeding and reproductive behavior.
"This suggests that this is a real biological mechanism where the flies can mate during a feeding environment, a good place to have sex and then make baby flies," Benton said. "It also raises the question whether other organisms have similar sensory pathways."
The researchers' findings are published in the latest issue of Nature
Top image by Anna Kucherova via Shutterstock