Science Questions

How does flyspray work?

Mon, 24th Oct 2011

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Question

Mark Probert, Twitter asked:

How does flyspray work?

Answer

Well fly spray, this is the stuff you spray on the fly and usually there's a short lag and then suddenly the fly appears to go nuts.  It speeds up its activity and then all of its movements appear to become very chaotic and then usually, it ends up laying on its back with its legs writhing in the air, buzzing furiously and then it just expires.  

What's actually happening is that the fly spray is a neurotoxin.  Itís got chemicals in it that inhibit an enzyme in the body of the fly called an acetylcholinesterase and this enzyme is very important for interrupting the flow of information between motor nerves and muscles. 

The nerves squirt out a nerve transmitter chemical called acetylcholine.  This binds to special docking stations called receptors which are on the muscle and activate the muscle and then you terminate the signal by breaking down the acetylcholine with this acetylcholinesterase enzyme. 

If you inhibit the enzyme with the drugs or the chemicals that are in the fly spray, then what happens is that you end up stimulating the muscles too much, you don't interrupt the signal and as a result, the flyís muscles all go into tetany - they're contracting all the time and as a result, the fly becomes nonviable and also can't move its abdomen backwards and forwards to move air in and out of its body, so it can't oxygenate its hemocele, the bag of blood inside the fly, so it basically asphyxiates as well.  So that's how fly spray works.  

 

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