fruit flies, who woulda thought?

pixies_in_the_underworld's picture

Have you guys read the article about the fruit flies? It's really cool because it's one of the first steps in proving that homosexuality is genetic!
June 3, 2005
For Fruit Flies, Gene Shift Tilts Sex Orientation
International Herald Tribune
When the genetically altered fruit fly was released into the observation chamber, it did what these breeders par excellence tend to do. It pursued a waiting virgin female. It gently tapped the girl with its leg, played her a song (using wings as instruments) and, only then, dared to lick her - all part of standard fruit fly seduction.

The observing scientist looked with disbelief at the show, for the suitor in this case was not a male, but a female that researchers had artificially endowed with a single male-type gene.

That one gene, the researchers are announcing today in the journal Cell, is apparently by itself enough to create patterns of sexual behavior - a kind of master sexual gene that normally exists in two distinct male and female variants.

In a series of experiments, the researchers found that females given the male variant of the gene acted exactly like males in courtship, madly pursuing other females. Males that were artificially given the female version of the gene became more passive and turned their sexual attention to other males.

"We have shown that a single gene in the fruit fly is sufficient to determine all aspects of the flies' sexual orientation and behavior," said the paper's lead author, Dr. Barry Dickson, senior scientist at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. "It's very surprising.

"What it tells us is that instinctive behaviors can be specified by genetic programs, just like the morphologic development of an organ or a nose."

The results are certain to prove influential in debates about whether genes or environment determine who we are, how we act and, especially, our sexual orientation, although it is not clear now if there is a similar master sexual gene for humans.

Still, experts said they were both awed and shocked by the findings. "The results are so clean and compelling, the whole field of the genetic roots of behavior is moved forward tremendously by this work," said Dr. Michael Weiss, chairman of the department of biochemistry at Case Western Reserve University. "Hopefully this will take the discussion about sexual preferences out of the realm of morality and put it in the realm of science."

He added: "I never chose to be heterosexual; it just happened. But humans are complicated. With the flies we can see in a simple and elegant way how a gene can influence and determine behavior."

The finding supports scientific evidence accumulating over the past decade that sexual orientation may be innately programmed into the brains of men and women. Equally intriguing, the researchers say, is the possibility that a number of behaviors - hitting back when feeling threatened, fleeing when scared or laughing when amused - may also be programmed into human brains, a product of genetic heritage.

"This is a first - a superb demonstration that a single gene can serve as a switch for complex behaviors," said Dr. Gero Miesenboeck, a professor of cell biology at Yale.

Dr. Dickson, the lead author, said he ran into the laboratory when an assistant called him on a Sunday night with the results. "This really makes you think about how much of our behavior, perhaps especially sexual behaviors, has a strong genetic component," he said.

All the researchers cautioned that any of these wired behaviors set by master genes will probably be modified by experience. Though male fruit flies are programmed to pursue females, Dr. Dickson said, those that are frequently rejected over time become less aggressive in their mating behavior.

When a normal male fruit fly is introduced to a virgin female, they almost immediately begin foreplay and then copulate for 20 minutes. In fact, Dr. Dickson and his co-author, Dr. Ebru Demir of the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology, specifically chose to look for the genetic basis of fly sexual behavior precisely because it seemed so strong and instinctive and, therefore, predictable.

Scientists have known for several years that the master sexual gene, known as fru, was central to mating, coordinating a network of neurons that were involved in the male fly's courtship ritual. Last year, Dr. Bruce Baker of Stanford University discovered that the mating circuit controlled by the gene involved 60 nerve cells and that if any of these were damaged or destroyed by the scientists, the animal could not mate properly. Both male and female flies have the same genetic material as well as the neural circuitry required for the mating ritual, but different parts of the genes are turned on in the two sexes. But no one dreamed that simply activating the normally dormant male portion of the gene in a female fly could cause a genetic female to display the whole elaborate panoply of male fruit fly foreplay.


Daelus's picture


That's interesting. I just hope
scientists don't use it to figure
out some way to turn us all straight.

"When you can't run, you crawl, and when
you can't crawl, when you can't do that, you
find someone to carry you."

"If nothing we do matters, then all that
matters is what we do."

chevamartin's picture

oh god.. what a nightmare tha

oh god.. what a nightmare that would be. :(

christa's picture

i would go back in the closet

i would go back in the closet and pretend i striaght agian if scientists found away to turn us striaght because it would probably become soon a homo requirement. plus, when i was in the closet everything seemed so much easier. but, i love being out.
*homos need love too!*

Paladin's picture

Your fears are unfounded

Even if a human gay gene was found, it is unlikely that they would be able to change the DNA of the cells that need changing in order to make us straight. Furthermore, even if they did, it's probable that we'd still be gay, because changing your DNA many years after you're born may not have the desired effect.


micky's picture

thats great, but now instead

thats great, but now instead of it being a "choice", it will be a genetic defect.


DesiD's picture

important scientific stuff

Fruitflies are annoying little things I crush on a regular basis. You know that the government actually funded a study about spiders where they fed one spider LSD and the other spider mescaline? The spider on LSD built a geometrically perfect web while the spider on mescaline built a rambling, crazy web.

rowie's picture


finally someone has proved there is a use for fruit flies :P thanks to the little guys, this reaserch is great.

**you must be the change you wish to see in the world**

QuakerOats's picture

gay penguins

ya know, there is a pair of gay male penguins who have adopted and are raising a penguin chick at the central park zoo in NYC. I swear. it's obviously natural!!! there are lesbian seagulls out there too...

Come out, come out wherever you are!

etherealmonster's picture



mind if I x-post?
and where didja find that?

RE: concerns about programming people to be straight
I seriously doubt that'll happen. The gay movement is growing, awareness is being raised, and more and more people are accepting us (or at least thinking). By the time we'll have the technology for that, (which I don't think will happen any time soon), people will realize that doing that is plain dumb.

pixies_in_the_underworld's picture


I actually found it on a myspace gay group topic forum, strange huh? But it turns out that it was in the LA Times, too.