COLLEGE STATION, Jan. 11, 2011 Biologists at Texas A&M University 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.
Their 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, this new understanding as to 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 Dr. Ginger E. Carney, associate professor of biology and co-author of the study. "The choice may affect your physiology, behavior and health in unexpected ways."
To make this discovery, Carney and a student in her laboratory, Lisa L. Ellis, 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 which are only affected by being placed with members of a particular sex, either male or female. The researchers then tested mutant flies that were missing some of these socially responsive genes and confirmed that these particular genes are important for behavior.
Carney and Ellis 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 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 ra
|Contact: Shana K. Hutchins|
Texas A&M University