Desiccate (Desi), initially discovered as a gene expressing in the epidermis of Drosophila larvae for protection from desiccation stress, was recently found to be robustly expressed in the adult labellum; however, the function, as well as precise expression sites, was unknown. Here, we found that Desi is expressed in two different types of non-neuronal cells of the labellum, the epidermis and thecogen accessory cells. Labellar Desi expression was significantly elevated under arid conditions, accompanied by an increase in water ingestion by adults. Desi overexpression also promoted water ingestion. In contrast, a knockdown of Desi expression reduced feeding as well as water ingestion due to a drastic decrease in the gustatory sensillar sensitivity for all tested tastants. These results indicate that Desi helps protect insects from desiccation damage by not only preventing dehydration through the integument but also accelerating water ingestion via elevated taste sensitivities of the sensilla.
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