How do organisms make dietary choices?

May 13, 2010

When given a choice, organisms will choose a diet that maintains a nutritional balance in tune with their needs. That choice, studied in fruit flies for the first time, is regulated by activity in a molecular pathway involved in aging, cancer and diabetes. The research undertaken in fruit flies at the Buck Institute for Age Research has implications for humans, who share the same molecular pathway. The study, the first to be done in a genetically tractable lab animal, provides a way to begin the development of treatments that could "reboot" metabolic pathways in individuals who are obese or suffer from diabetes. The study appears in the May 13, 2010 online edition of the journal Current Biology.

"How an organism balances its intake of nutrients has a great impact on its health and survival," said Buck faculty member Pankaj Kapahi, PhD, the lead author on the study, who said that an imbalance of protein and carbohydrates has been implicated as a cause for both and obesity and influences the , "In this study we've established a model using the fruit fly to address the question of how an organism chooses between protein and carbohydrate."

The study revealed that deprived of either carbohydrates or protein () in their diet show a strong preference for the nutrient they were previously deficient in. In addition, the researchers discovered that the gender and the mating status of the species alters its . They found that S6 Kinase, a key protein in the TOR (target of rapamycin) pathway which is involved in nutrient sensing in all species ranging from plants to humans, also influences dietary choices. TOR is well established as playing an important role in cancer, diabetes and aging. The study also found that changes in levels of serotonin influence the choice between protein and carbohydrate. Serotonin is a key found in the gut and in the brain and is involved in the regulation of mood, appetite, sleep and cognitive functions.

Kapahi emphasized that this study opens the doors to study the phenomenon of dietary choices in a genetically tractable animal, something new in a laboratory environment where animals are generally put on fixed diets. "This study allows us to begin to ask the question of whether changes in metabolism and aging are influenced by dietary choices," said Kapahi. "These studies will have great relevance for humans who share these nutritional signaling pathways with flies." Kapahi said the issue of choice becomes vital as treatments are developed for obesity and diabetes. "This adds a crucial dimension to the research, one that takes into account the reality of human experience which involves food choice," he said.

"Dietary choices in humans play a critical role in the development of obesity and diabetes," said Kapahi. "This research can help us develop treatments that correct nutritional imbalances." As examples, Kapahi mentioned possible treatments for those genetically predisposed to diabetes or obesity. He also said it may be possible to develop treatments that would "reboot" the metabolism of people who have become accustomed to eating excess sugar and carbohydrates.

Explore further: Research links diet to cognitive decline and dementia

Related Stories

Research links diet to cognitive decline and dementia

November 6, 2007

Research has shown convincing evidence that dietary patterns practiced during adulthood are important contributors to age-related cognitive decline and dementia risk. An article published in Annals of the New York Academy ...

Can diet alone control type 2 diabetes? No evidence yet

July 16, 2008

Despite strong evidence that type 2 diabetes can be prevented or at least delayed by a combination of lifestyle changes and good dietary advice, a team of Cochrane Researchers found that there is no indication whether dietary ...

'Anti-Atkins' low protein diet extends lifespan in flies

October 1, 2009

Flies fed an "anti-Atkins" low protein diet live longer because their mitochondria function better. The research, done at the Buck Institute for Age Research, shows that the molecular mechanisms responsible for the lifespan ...

How the brain decides what to eat

May 13, 2010

Having a balanced diet is a vital concern to all living organisms, not only humans. Animals choose between different food sources according to their nutritional needs. In a study just published in the journal Current Biology, ...

Recommended for you

A new form of real gold, almost as light as air

November 25, 2015

Researchers at ETH Zurich have created a new type of foam made of real gold. It is the lightest form ever produced of the precious metal: a thousand times lighter than its conventional form and yet it is nearly impossible ...

New 'self-healing' gel makes electronics more flexible

November 25, 2015

Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a first-of-its-kind self-healing gel that repairs and connects electronic circuits, creating opportunities to advance the ...

Getting under the skin of a medieval mystery

November 23, 2015

A simple PVC eraser has helped an international team of scientists led by bioarchaeologists at the University of York to resolve the mystery surrounding the tissue-thin parchment used by medieval scribes to produce the first ...

Atom-sized craters make a catalyst much more active

November 24, 2015

Bombarding and stretching an important industrial catalyst opens up tiny holes on its surface where atoms can attach and react, greatly increasing its activity as a promoter of chemical reactions, according to a study by ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.