Examining Stress Responses in Fruit Flies to an Artificial Dye

Jenn Hoskins
19th January, 2024

Examining Stress Responses in Fruit Flies to an Artificial Dye

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Imagine something as seemingly inconsequential as the color of your food holding the power to mess with your health. Sounds a bit dramatic, I know, but scientists have been eyeing those vibrant hues in our snacks and sweets and asking: could these be more than meets the eye? This story, in particular, revolves around a common food dye known as Brilliant Black PN, which you might recognize from the label as E151. Researchers have been delving into how this dye affects the little workhorses inside our cells that deal with something called oxidative stress. Now, oxidative stress is basically a battle royale at a microscopic level – it's when there are too many free radicals (think of them as baddies) causing trouble and not enough antioxidants (the goodies) to keep them in check. This mess can lead to damage inside cells, and it's linked to all sorts of health issues, from aging to diseases. So, to get the lowdown on how Brilliant Black PN plays into this, scientists turned to the trusty fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Why fruit flies, you ask? Well, despite us looking nothing alike, these tiny insects share a surprising amount of genetic material with us humans, making them a go-to for geneticists wanting to understand the impacts of substances without running into ethical roadblocks. These bugs were served a special diet laced with different doses of the dye, ranging from a casual 1 mg/mL to a hefty 5 mg/mL punch. As they grew from wriggly larvae into full-fledged adults, the researchers kept a close eye on how the chemicals in their tiny heads reacted to the dye. One key area they scrutinized was a suite of enzymes – these are like the little factory workers in cells – including superoxide dismutase, catalase (CAT), and glutathione peroxidase (GPX). All of these guys play major roles in protecting the cell from oxidative stress. They also looked at acetylcholinesterase (AChE), which is important for governing the nervous system, letting nerve cells chat efficiently with each other and with muscles. To get their data, they didn't hold back on the tech. They measured the activity of these enzymes, tracked changes in genes, and kept tabs on substances within the cells like glutathione – a heavy-lifter antioxidant – and malondialdehyde, a marker that pops up when cells get damaged by oxidative stress. They even counted copies of mitochondrial DNA – these are the special bits of genetic material tucked inside mitochondria, the power plants of the cells. Now, here's the kicker: at the highest dose of Brilliant Black PN, the fruit flies showed some pretty worrying signs. Both CAT and GPX enzymes got a bit lazy – their activity levels dropped. Genetic expression (which is basically how loudly a gene is 'speaking') took a hit too. The acetylcholinesterase enzyme got sluggish, glutathione levels went down, indicating fewer antioxidants on the job, and even the number of mitochondrial DNA copies took a dive. Putting it all together, the dye seemed to really throw a spanner in the works of the fruit flies' ability to handle oxidative stress, and that's not even touching on what it could do to their nervous system. And the more dye the flies consumed, the worse these effects were. It's like the difference between having one cheeky fast-food meal versus having it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; the more you have, the rougher on your system it's going to be. So, the takeaway message from the fly folks? Brilliant Black PN could really be something to watch out for. But the story isn't over yet. The researchers are clear that this is just the opening chapter, and we need a lot more detective work to fully understand how and why this dye might be causing these health hiccups. And most importantly, how that translates to what happens in humans. This food coloring is still pretty widely used, and while no one's saying you need to chuck out every colorful snack from your pantry right now, it's definitely food for thought. Studies like these are helping us to piece together the puzzle of what the things we eat are really doing in our bodies, and that's pretty invaluable. It's not just about the number of calories or whether something's low-carb; it's also about understanding the hidden impacts of every ingredient on that label. After all, knowledge is power, especially when it comes to what we put on our plates.



Main Study

1) Biochemical and molecular assessment of oxidative stress in fruit fly exposed to azo dye Brilliant Black PN.

Published 18th January, 2024


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