The similarity between odors and their binary mixtures in Drosophila

Claire Eschbach, Katrin Vogt, Michael Schmuker, Bertram Gerber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


How are odor mixtures perceived? We take a behavioral approach toward this question, using associative odor-recognition experiments in Drosophila. We test how strongly flies avoid a binary mixture after punishment training with one of its constituent elements and how much, in turn, flies avoid an odor element if it had been a component of a previously punished binary mixture. A distinguishing feature of our approach is that we first adjust odors for task-relevant behavioral potency, that is, for equal learnability. Doing so, we find that 1) generalization between mixture and elements is symmetrical and partial, 2) elements are equally similar to all mixtures containing it and that 3) mixtures are equally similar to both their constituent elements. As boundary conditions for the applicability of these rules, we note that first, although variations in learnability are small and remain below statistical cut-off, these variations nevertheless correlate with the elements' perceptual "weight" in the mixture; thus, even small differences in learnability between the elements have the potential to feign mixture asymmetries. Second, the more distant the elements of a mixture are to each other in terms of their physicochemical properties, the more distant the flies regard the elements from the mixture. Thus, titrating for task-relevant behavioral potency and taking into account physicochemical relatedness of odors reveals rules of mixture perception that, maybe surprisingly, appear to be fairly simple.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)613-21
Number of pages9
JournalChemical Senses
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2011


  • Animals
  • Avoidance Learning
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Drosophila
  • Odors
  • Punishment
  • Smell


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