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Attention ladies and gentlemen: Courtship affects gene expression

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."


Contact: Tracey DePellegrin Connelly
Genetics Society of America

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