Why are we so tasty to bugs? A genetic basis emerges in the lab.

Insects devour up to 40 percent of the world’s crops and spread disease to hundreds of millions of humans and livestock every year. Controlling pests has proven difficult at best, and current methods often have significant environmental side effects. The discovery of insect taste receptor genes by Yale scientists gives researchers new tools for understanding insect taste systems, and possibly for developing novel means of pest control.

John R. Carlson, Ph.D., professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, directed a research group that, for the first time, has identified insect taste receptor genes-nearly 40 for the fruit fly Drosophila. The discovery, published in Science in March, follows up on Carlson’s study detecting insect odor receptors that was published last year. The finding could lead both to a fundamental understanding about the physiology of taste systems and to development of nontoxic compounds to apply to crops, livestock and humans that would taste repulsive to the insects.