Subscribe to the BioNews newsletter for free

Advanced Search

Search for

Like the Progress Educational Trust on Facebook



Fly gene clue to sexual behaviour

06 June 2005

By BioNews

Appeared in BioNews 311

Tweaking a single gene alters the courtship behaviour of fruit flies, a new Austrian study shows. By altering a gene called 'fruitless' (fru), the researchers, based at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna, bred female flies that courted other females. But altering the same gene in male flies produced insects that showed no interest in mating with flies of either sex, say the scientists, who published their findings in the journal Cell. The team stress that the factors influencing a fly's sexual behaviour are very different to those involved in human sexuality. However, the study does show that a single gene can have a dramatic effect on behaviour.

It seems that the fru gene produces two different proteins, one specific to male flies and the other to females. In two papers, the scientists report that the fru gene sets up the fly brain to produce male courtship behaviour - a series of tapping and tilting movements. Female fruit flies do not normally court at all. But female flies genetically altered to produce the male fru protein displayed the same courtship behaviour towards other females. In contrast, male flies bred to make the female fru protein did not court other flies at all.

The experiments suggest that 'switch genes' - like fru - could 'hard-wire' some fly behaviour, by switching other genes on and off. Lead author Barry Dickson said the results were 'very surprising', adding 'we have shown that a single gene in the fruit fly is sufficient to determine all aspects of the flies' sexual orientation and behaviour'. However, he also cautioned that 'in the case of humans, we know our sexual behaviours are not irreversibly set by our genes, but that doesn't mean the genes have no influence'. US biochemist Michael Weiss praised the study, saying 'the whole field of the genetic roots of behaviour is moved forward tremendously by this work'. He added that 'hopefully this will take the discussion about sexual preferences out of the realm of morality and put it in the realm of science'.

Nature News | 02 June 2005
Sexuality determined by nature or nurture? Fruit fly gives the answer
The Independent | 05 June 2005
Science | 03 June 2005


12 July 2010 - by Rosemary Paxman 
Geneticists claim that female mice can be turned 'lesbian' by a single gene deletion...

31 January 2005 - by BioNews 
US scientists have identified several different stretches of human DNA which could contain genes that influence male sexuality. The team, based at the University of Illinois, say that multiple genes interacting with environmental influences are the most likely explanation for differences in sexual orientation. The results, based on a scan...
18 October 2004 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
Gay genes' have been in the news again this week. An Italian team of researchers has attempted to explain how such genes could be passed on from one generation to the next. The answer, it seems, is that the female relatives of gay men tend to have more children than...
13 October 2004 - by BioNews 
Genetic factors that influence homosexuality in men might also affect the number of children borne by their female relatives, Italian scientists claim. A new survey suggests that although gay men may have fewer children than heterosexual men, their mothers and maternal aunts have more children than those of men who...
26 April 1999 - by BioNews 
A study investigating the genetic basis of homosexuality has failed to support research published six years ago suggesting the existence of a 'gay gene'. A team of scientists led by Dean Hamer, an American Aids researcher, caused controversy in 1993 when it published results of a study claiming to have...
26 April 1999 - by Juliet Tizzard 
It's official: there is no such thing as a gene for homosexuality. Well, sort of. A number of articles in last week's press reported on new research from the University of Western Ontario that failed to demonstrate a link between a gene on the X chromosome and homosexuality in men...

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

- click here to enquire about using this story.

Published by the Progress Educational Trust


Public Conference
8 December 2017

Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Andy Greenfield

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Henry Malter

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross

Sandy Starr


Good Fundraising Code

Become a Friend of PET HERE and give the Progress Educational Trust a regular donation