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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 June 2005, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Courting behaviour 'in the genes'
Image of a fruit fly
A single gene changed the flies' sexual behaviour
Men who are no good at wooing the ladies may be able to blame their genes, after researchers have made a discovery in the humble fruit fly.

Manipulation of a single gene in male fruit flies made them less adept at courting female mates, a US and an Austrian team have both found.

While humans do not possess this gene, we do share many with fruit flies.

The research, in the journals Nature and Cell, suggested sexual behaviour has a strong biological basis.

Things we believe are developmental actually have a biological and genetic underpinning
Lead researcher of the US study, Professor Barbara Taylor

Others still argue that it is down to upbringing.

Professor Barbara Taylor and colleagues at Oregon State University in the US and Dr Barry Dickson and colleagues at the Austrian Academy of Sciences looked at the 'fruitless' gene, which is present in both male and female fruit flies.

Ordinarily, it is only in males that this gene results in the creation of proteins that guide male sexual behaviour patterns, such as approaching females, tapping and singing to them and performing courtship dances.

When the researchers manipulated the male fruit flies so that they had a faulty fruitless gene the flies no longer showed typical male sex-related behaviours


Conversely, when females had their genes manipulated so that they produced the male proteins, they began to show classic patterns of male sexual behaviour.

Professor Taylor said: "In a physical sense, the females looked perfectly normal, but they acted like males and, if they were physically able to, I would not be surprised if they would have attempted to mate other females."

"Research of this type is telling us quite a bit about they ways in which things we believe are developmental actually have a biological and genetic underpinning," she said.

Co-author of the US study, which appears in Neuron, Dr Jeffrey Hall, said he would not be surprised to learn that human sexual behaviours also had similar mechanisms underpinning them.

However, experts acknowledge that it is always difficult to apply findings from one species to another.

Dr Stephen Goodwin from the University of Glasgow, who has also studied fruit flies, said: "These are very exciting findings.

"Both groups have made substantial steps in our understanding of how innate sexual behaviours are specified by a single gene.

"In terms of Nature versus Nurture, it will be very interesting to see if its possible to connect the innate sexual behaviour of the fly with its ability to modify its interactions with a mate."

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