Using Doubly-Labeled Water to Measure Energy Expenditure in an Important Small Ectotherm Drosophila melanogaster

Matthew D. W. Piper, Colin Selman, John R. Speakman*, Linda Partridge

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
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Energy expenditure is a key variable in the study of ageing, and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is a model organism that has been used to make step changes in our understanding of the ageing process. Standard methods for measurement of energy expenditure involve placing individuals in metabolic chambers where their oxygen consumption and CO2 production can be quantified. These measurements require separating individuals from any social context, and may only poorly reflect the environment in which the animals normally live. The doubly-labeled water (DLW) method is an isotope-based technique for measuring energy expenditure which overcomes these problems. However, technical challenges mean that the smallest animals this method has been previously applied to weighed 50-200mg. We overcame these technical challenges to measure energy demands in Drosophila weighing 0.78mg. Mass-specific energy expenditure varied between 43 and 65mW·g-1. These estimates are considerably higher than estimates using indirect calorimetry of Drosophila in small metabolic chambers (around 18mW·g-1). The methodology we have established extends downwards by three orders of magnitude the size of animals that can be measured using DLW. This approach may be of considerable value in future ageing research attempting to understand the genetic and genomic basis of ageing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)505-512
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of genetics and genomics
Issue number9
Early online date10 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2014

Bibliographical note

Open Access funded by Wellcome Trust for University College London (UCL) authors.

Funding for this work was provided by the Wellcome Trust (MDWP, LP). John Speakman was supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (No. XDB13030000) a 1000 talents professorship. We are grateful to Peter Thomson and Paula Redman for technical assistance with isotope analysis


  • Doubly-labeled water
  • Drosophila
  • Effect of mating status and sex
  • Respiration rate


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