Zhiyang Peter Chen
Investigating prophylactic and therapeutic self-medication in Drosophila melanogaster
Self-medication behaviors in animals are usually considered to be learned, but some evidence demonstrates the presence of innate self-medication behavior. Currently, the origin of self-medication remains a major question in evolutionary biology. This research project aims to determine whether fruit flies (D. melanogaster) can use nicotine for self-medication and what evolutionary events may precede such behavior. The Tarvin lab has been studying how flies adapt to nicotine using an experimental evolution set up. I will use two fly strains developed in the Tarvin Lab that have different phenotypes: sequestering nicotine to defend against parasitic infection (nicotine accumulation) and tolerating nicotine exposure but not defensive (nicotine tolerance). I will compare variation in nicotine taste preference, oviposition preference, and potential self-medication behavior among control, nicotine, and ethanol (positive control) media between the three types of flies. My hypothesis is that the fly strains that have demonstrated the greatest nicotine accumulation in prior experiments will have the greatest ability or propensity to use nicotine as a medical substance to clear the parasitic infection. This research will expand our knowledge of self-medication in animals and provide opportunities to investigate the genetic basis of these traits (my Honor thesis goal).