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The temperature tastes just right: Scientists discover new insect temperature sensor

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Posted August 8, 2013
A team of Brandeis University scientists has discovered a previously unknown molecular temperature sensor in fruit flies belonging to a protein family responsible for sensing tastes and smells. These types of sensors are present in disease-spreading insects like mosquitoes and tsetse flies and may help scientists better understand how insects target warm-blooded prey -- like humans -- and spread disease. Credit: Paul Garrity

A team of Brandeis University scientists has discovered a previously unknown molecular temperature sensor in fruit flies belonging to a protein family responsible for sensing tastes and smells. These types of sensors are present in disease-spreading insects like mosquitoes and tsetse flies and may help scientists better understand how insects target warm-blooded prey — like humans — and spread disease. Credit: Paul Garrity

Call it the Goldilocks Principle—animals can survive and reproduce only if the temperature is just right. Too hot and they will overheat. Too cold and they will freeze.

To stay in their comfort zone, animals have evolved very sensitive temperature sensors to detect the relatively narrow margin in which they can survive. Until recently, scientists knew little about how these sensors operated.

Now, a team of Brandeis University scientists has discovered a previously unknown molecular temperature sensor in fruit flies belonging to a protein family responsible for sensing tastes and smells. These types of sensors are present in disease-spreading insects like mosquitoes and tsetse flies and may help scientists better understand how insects target warm-blooded prey—like humans—and spread disease.

The discovery is published in Wednesday’s advance online edition of the journalNature.

Biting insects, such as mosquitoes, are attracted to carbon dioxide and heat. Notice how mosquitoes always seem to bite where there is the most blood? That is because those areas are the warmest, says Paul Garrity, a professor of biology in the National Center for Behavioral Genomics at Brandeis who co-authored the paper.

“If you can find a mosquito’s temperature receptor, you can potentially produce a more effective repellent or trap,” Garrity says. “The discovery of this new temperature receptor in the fruit fly gives scientists an idea of where to look for similar receptors in the mosquito and in other insects.”

Read more at: Phys.org

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