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The gut microbiome has been proposed to influence diverse behavioral traits of animals, although the experimental evidence is limited and often contradictory. Here, we make use of the tractability of Drosophila melanogaster for both behavioral analyses and microbiome studies to test how elimination of microorganisms affects a number of behavioral traits. Relative to conventional flies (i.e., with unaltered microbiome), microbiologically-sterile (axenic) flies displayed a moderate reduction in memory performance in olfactory appetitive conditioning and courtship assays. The microbiological status of the flies had small or no effect on anxiety-like behavior (centrophobism) or circadian rhythmicity of locomotor activity, but axenic flies tended to sleep for longer and displayed reduced sleep rebound after sleep deprivation. The latter effects were robust for most tests conducted on both wildtype Canton S and w1118 strains, as well for tests using an isogenized panel of flies with mutations in the period gene, which causes altered circadian rhythmicity. Interestingly, the effect of absence of microbiota on a few behavioral features, most notably instantaneous locomotor activity speed, varied among wild-type strains. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that the microbiome can have subtle but significant effects on specific aspects of Drosophila behavior, some of which are dependent on genetic background.

Original publication




Journal article


J Exp Biol

Publication Date



Anxiety, Circadian rhythm, Insect, Learning, Locomotor activity, Memory, Sleep, Sleep recovery