Fruit flies the buzz in boundaries study

Fruit flies might be known best for overstepping their ­boundaries.

But the little pests may be key in explaining how we define just that, our personal space, according to a new study that included Western University researchers.

Anne Simon, a Western biology professor, was an author of a study published Wednesday that determined dopamine was a crucial component to regulating social space.

“Each animal has a preferred social bubble, a preferred personal space,” said Simon. “If we can connect the dots with other animals, including humans — because we all have similar neurotransmitters — we may gain new ways of understanding what’s happening in some disorders where personal space can sometimes be an issue.”

The study, which included Yale researchers, found that dopamine — a chemical released by the brain that governs the “reward” pathways — affected how much physical space fruit flies required between each other.

When too little dopamine was released by the neurons of fruit flies, both male and female, they moved farther away from each other. Female fruit flies also expanded their social boundaries when too much dopamine was released. Males, on the other hand, got closer to each other when too little dopamine was released.

“They would not have the same incentives, males and females,” ­Simon said.

Similarities in genetic information between fruit flies and ­humans suggest the research may prove better understanding in ­humans, too.e

Simon said upcoming research will explore how dopamine release is affected by social cues, and how the ties between dopamine and sociability can be used to better understanding people with ­disorders such as autism and ­schizophrenia.

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