Effects of dietary folic acid level and symbiotic folate production on fitness and development in the fruit fly drosophila melanogaster

Sydella A. Blatch, Kyle W. Meyer, Jon Harrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Folic acid is a vitamin for probably all animals. When converted to folate forms, it is used in DNA synthesis and amino acid metabolism. Literature suggests insects must consume folates, folates do not affect others, is a toxin for some, and that a few insects synthesize it. It has been reported that Drosophila melanogaster does not consistently need dietary folate because it can synthesize it. This seems unlikely since animals generally lack this ability. More likely, folates thought to have been made by the fly came from microbial symbionts. We aimed to clarify how dietary folic acid affects fitness and development in fruit flies and whether flies may receive folates from microbial symbionts. We found larvae were more viable and developed faster with increasing dietary folic acid, with the surprising exception that larvae fed nearly-zero folic acid developed faster. Their body folate levels did not significantly differ from those that consumed up to 600 times more folic acid. However, these flies fed little folate only achieved normal body folate levels and development times when antibiotics were excluded from the diet. When flies consumed near-zero folates with antibiotics, their body folate levels decreased and development was prolonged. An assay for the endosymbiont Wolbachia in flies used to generate the experimental flies did not show presence of these bacteria. Our data suggest D. melanogaster can harbor unknown bacterial symbiont(s) that provide essential folates to their host when it is scarce in the diet, allowing the fruit fly to maintain growth and development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)312-319
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010


  • Bacteria
  • Growth
  • Insect
  • Microbe
  • Nutrition
  • Symbiont
  • Vitamin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science


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