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Fruit Flies and Electric Fields: Potential for Pollinator Aid

Jul 30, 2015 03:35 PM EDT
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Fruitflies' wings are affected by electrical fields. This may have consequences for them and pollinators.
The two fairly different topics of pest control and helping bees and other pollinators came up, as a result of new findings regarding fruit flies and electricity.
(Photo : wikipedia commons )

Fruitflies' wings are disturbed by electric fields--leading to avoidance behavior and a neurochemical change in their brains. This new knowledge could possibly be used in pest control, or for learning the effects of power lines on pollinators, say researchers from the University of Southampton and elsewhere, who recently published their report in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Knowing this means a lot, because fruitflies are such model organisms for biology study: "75 per cent of the genes that cause disease in humans are shared by fruit flies, so by studying them we can learn a lot about basic mechanisms," noted Professor Philip Newland at the University of Southampton and lead author of the study, in a release.

The researchers found that the plastic housing in which lab fruit flies are normally kept (which retain their own static electric charge) could change the fruitflies' behavior and neurochemical profile, the release noted.

When the flies were in a maze, they avoided areas with an electric charge. However, flies without wings did not do this. Flies with smaller wings only avoided higher charges. This suggested that the flies' wings are involved in detection and feel the energy of the fields, the release noted. 

The group says their results have consequences for flies in laboratories, but also in their natural environment.

"We are particularly interested in how electric fields could be used in pest control," says co-author Dr Christopher Jackson, also of Southampton, in the release. "Meshes that can generate static electric fields could be put across windows of houses or green houses to prevent insects like fruit flies or even mosquitos entering, yet allow air movement."

"It also raises questions of how pollinating species like bees could be affected by power lines, which have stronger electric fields," Jackson noted in the release. 

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