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A Rapid Food-Preference Assay in Drosophila

Published: February 11th, 2021



1Monell Chemical Senses Center, 2Department of Physiology, The Diabetes Research Center, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine

We present a protocol for a two-choice feeding assay for flies. This feeding assay is fast and easy to run and is suitable not only for small-scale laboratory research, but also for high-throughput behavioral screens in flies.

To select food with nutritional value while avoiding the consumption of harmful agents, animals need a sophisticated and robust taste system to evaluate their food environment. The fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, is a genetically tractable model organism that is widely used to decipher the molecular, cellular, and neural underpinnings of food preference. To analyze fly food preference, a robust feeding method is needed. Described here is a two-choice feeding assay, which is rigorous, cost-saving, and fast. The assay is Petri-dish-based and involves the addition of two different foods supplemented with blue or red dye to the two halves of the dish. Then, ~70 prestarved, 2-4-day-old flies are placed in the dish and allowed to choose between blue and red foods in the dark for about 90 min. Examination of the abdomen of each fly is followed by the calculation of the preference index. In contrast to multiwell plates, each Petri dish takes only ~20 s to fill and saves time and effort. This feeding assay can be employed to quickly determine whether flies like or dislike a particular food.

Despite dramatic differences in the anatomical structure of taste organs between flies and mammals, the flies' behavioral responses to many tastant substances are strikingly similar to those of mammals. For example, flies prefer sugar1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, amino acids9,10, and low salt11, which indicate nutrients, but reject....

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1. Assembling the assay chambers

NOTE: While this protocol describes the use of a 35 mm Petri dish (Figure 1A), the desired effect can be achieved using any watertight, smooth-bottomed vessel that can be bisected and covered.

  1. First, bisect a lidded 35 mm Petri dish by fixing a length of plastic (5 mm in width and 3 mm in height) down the midline with waterproof adhesive, forming two watertight compartments. Confirm that the seal is complete to avoid le.......

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In this assay, a 35 mm dish was divided into two equal feeding compartments, with each half of the dish containing agarose food coupled with either blue or red dye (Figure 1A). To exclude dye bias, the blue and red dye concentrations were carefully refined to yield an approximate "0" PI when only these two dyes were added (Figure 1B). Once the Petri dish was loaded with tested food, ~70 wet-starved, 2-4-day-old adult flies were transferred to the dish, a.......

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This method involves several crucial steps where problems can occur. First, make sure flies ingest a sufficient amount of food to provide stable data. If flies eat poorly, ensure that the flies have been wet-starved for at least 24 h, and that the experimental media contains at least a minimal sucrose concentration (2 mM). To further stimulate food consumption, prolong the wet-starvation period beyond 24 h, depending on the flies' physiological condition. If too many flies fail to survive the prolonged starvation, en.......

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The authors would like to thank Dr. Tingwei Mi for helping them optimize the two-choice feeding assay. They would also like to thank Samuel Chan and Wyatt Koolmees for their comments on the manuscript. This project was funded by the National Institutes of Health grants R03 DC014787 (Y.V.Z.) and R01 DC018592 (Y.V.Z.) and by the Ambrose Monell Foundation.


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
35 mm Petri dish Fisher Scientific 08-772E
Agarose Thomas Scientific C756P56
Clear adhesive Fisher Scientific NC9884114
Conical centrifuge tubes Fisher Scientific 05-527-90
Dissection microscope Amscope SM-2T-6WB-V331
FCF Brilliant Blue Wako Chemical 3844-45-9
Fly CO2 anesthesia setup Genesee Scientfic 59-114/54-104M
Fly incubator with programmable day/night cycle Powers Scientific Inc. IS33SD
Fly lines
Glass dish (microwave-safe)
Kimwipes Fisher Scientific 06-666A
Media storage bottle Fisher Scientific 50-192-9998
Plastic divider cut to fit the dish from a sheet no thicker than 5 mm
Plastic fly vials Genesee Scientific 32-116
Sucrose Millipore Sigma S9378
Sulforhodamine B Millipore Sigma S9012
Tastant compound of interest
Vortex mixer Benchmark Scientific BV1000
Water bath Fisher Scientific FSGPD05

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