Research Highlights

Nature 457, 639 (5 February 2009) | doi:10.1038/457639c; Published online 4 February 2009

Biology: Stench sense

Biology: Stench sense

S. GSCHMEISSNER/SPL

J. Biol. doi:10.1186/jbiol108 (2009)

How is perception of a smell kept stable over a range of concentrations? Drosophila melanogaster larvae (pictured below) are attracted to the fruity odour of ethyl butyrate across a 500-fold range of concentration, according to Leslie Vosshall of the Rockefeller University in New York and her colleagues.

Mutant larvae that received input from only one of a subset of three olfactory sensory neurons were attracted to a smaller concentration range of ethyl butyrate than normal larvae, in which all three neurons were functional. Furthermore, activation of just one neuron was insufficient to trigger inhibitory neurons, which respond to high ethyl butyrate concentrations, stopping the smell from becoming overpowering.