Olfaction mediates the attraction of insects to humans and thus underlies the transmission of disease to hundreds of millions of people each year. Olfaction offers a wealth of biological problems. How does an odor or a pheromone activate a receptor, a cell, and a circuit so as to elicit an attractive response? Drosophila has a highly sophisticated olfactory system, which we study with molecular, genetic, physiological and behavioral approaches. We used a computational algorithm to discover a family of 60 Odor receptor (Or) genes. We have systematically identified the ligand specificities of the odor receptors by expressing each in an in vivo expression system. This approach also identified odor receptors of the malaria mosquito Anopheles that respond to components of human sweat. A major problem is how the responses of the odor receptor repertoire are translated into a behavioral response. We have also identified a family of 60 Gr genes that encode taste receptors. We have recently found that another, largely unexplored gene family may encode a different class of taste receptors. Understanding of the mechanisms of insect chemoperception may lead to new strategies for controlling insect-borne disease.
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