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Attention ladies and gentlemen: Courtship affects gene expression

Research published in the journal GENETICS suggests that being around the opposite sex activates genes in Drosophila melanogaster that cause them to perform certain courtship behaviors

Scientists from Texas have made an important step toward understanding human mating behavior by showing that certain genes become activated in fruit flies when they interact with the opposite sex.

This research, published in the January 2011 issue of the journal GENETICS (, shows that courtship behaviors may be far more influenced by genetics than previously thought. In addition, understanding why and how these genes become activated within social contexts may also lead to insight into disorders such as autism.

"Be careful who you interact with," said Ginger E. Carney, PhD, co-author of the research study from the Department of Biology at Texas A&M University in College Station. "The choice may affect your physiology, behavior and health in unexpected ways."

To make this discovery, the scientists compared gene expression profiles in males that courted females, males that interacted with other males, and males that did not interact with other flies. The investigators identified a common set of genes that respond to the presence of either sex. They also discovered that there are other genes that are only affected by being placed with members of a particular sex, either male or female. Researchers then tested mutant flies that are missing some of these socially responsive genes and confirmed that these particular genes are important for behavior. The scientists predict that analyzing additional similar genes will give further insight into genes and neural signaling pathways that influence reproductive and other behavioral interactions.

"This study shows that we're closing in on the complex genetic machinery that affects social interactions," said Mark Johnston, Editor-in-Chief of the journal GENETICS. "Once similar genes are identified in humans, the implications will be enormous, as it could bring new understanding of, and perhaps even treatments for, a vast range of disorders related to social behavior."

DETAILS: Lisa L. Ellis and Ginger E. Carney, Socially-Responsive Gene Expression in Male Drosophila melanogaster Is Influenced by the Sex of the Interacting Partner, Genetics 2011 187: 157�, January 2011, Copyright © 2011.

Since 1916, GENETICS ( has covered high quality, original research on a range of topics bearing on inheritance, including population and evolutionary genetics, complex traits, developmental and behavioral genetics, cellular genetics, gene expression, genome integrity and transmission, and genome and systems biology. GENETICS, the peer-reviewed, peer-edited journal of the Genetics Society of America is one of the world's most cited journals in genetics and heredity.

Tracey DePellegrin Connelly | EurekAlert!
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