Circuit Logic of Avoidance and Attraction

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Science  14 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6138, pp. 1295-1297
DOI: 10.1126/science.1240139

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How an animal responds to a sensory stimulus depends on its intensity. Animals prefer food with moderate concentrations of salt and avoid food high in salt content. Responses may also depend on the context. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by stressed fruit flies elicits an avoidance response (1). However, CO2 emitted by fermenting fruits is tolerated by flies in the context of food odors (2). How is a sensory stimulus encoded when presented at different intensities or in different contexts? On pages 1338 and 1334 in this issue, Lin et al. (3) and Zhang et al. (4) provide new insight into this fascinating problem by investigating how different concentrations of CO2 and salt are encoded by the olfactory and gustatory systems, respectively, in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.