The National Latsis Prize 2015 has been awarded to Richard Benton from the University of Lausanne for his work on the fruit fly’s sense of smell. The CHF100,000 ($98,237) award recognises outstanding researchers under the age of 40 in Switzerland.
The British scientist specialises in studying the molecular pathway of odours from the nose to the brain of insects. He aims to identify how a certain substance stimulates the brain and subsequently provokes particular behaviours in fruit flies. The results from his work could promote a better understanding of human behaviour too.
“Although the fruit fly’s nose is simpler than our own, odour perception in insects is strikingly similar to how humans detect smells,” said the 38-year-old researcher. ”What we learn from the fruit fly can therefore help us better understand neural circuits in more complex brains.”
Benton’s work also has potential practical applications. Understanding the response of insects to smells could also help in pest and disease control. Crop pests and disease-carrying insects rely on their sense of smell to find their hosts and disrupting this smell-induced behaviour could help keep them in check.