Scientists do not have a clear understanding of the exact process by which food texture is sensed. But now, a new study by UC Santa Barbara biologist Craig Montell and his research team sheds light on how fruit flies “feel” foods based on two important textural features — viscosity and hardness. Their findings appear in the journal Neuron.
“The food industry knows very well how important texture is to the appeal of foods,” said Montell, the Robert and Patricia Duggan Chair in Mathematical, Life, and Physical Sciences in UCSB’s Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. “But despite the intense effort by many groups, including our own, in looking at how chemicals in foods affect the appeal, little has been done to understand how food texture is sensed.”
Lead author Yali Zhang, a postdoctoral fellow in Montell’s lab, was fascinated by how flies sense food. “That is why I decided to embark on this project, since very little is known about the identities of the cells and receptors in the fly ‘tongue’ that are responsible for detecting food mechanics.”