Sexy Fruit Flies

As much as I am convinced that genetic predisposition plays a strong (although not absolutely decisive) role in determining sexuality, I’ve always thought that something as complex as sexual orientation couldn’t be determined by a single gene. Heck, even eye color isn’t determined by one gene.

This research on fruit flies could prove me wrong, if something similar can be found in humans.

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.

One gene, apparently by itself, creates patterns of sexual behavior in fruit flies.

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.”

NY Times: For Fruit Flies, Gene Shift Tilts Sex Orientation

The discovery of a “gay gene” (or genes) would cause some interesting conflicts. A strong majority of the anti-homosexual population is also anti-abortion or anti-genetic modification. It will be interesting to see what that group recommends that parents of children with the gay gene do. I’m guessing that for boys, instead of playing Mozart into headphones during the pregnancy, they’ll pump some ESPN2 in there. “You hear that Johnny? FOOTBALL!” For the girls with the gay gene, c-sections will be a must. Wouldn’t want to risk a vaginal delivery, now would we? There can’t be a special school for such children… putting a bunch of children with homosexual inclinations together isn’t going to result in the desired outcome, no matter what kind of sexual orientation molding is attempted.

This post by Beautiful Atrocities has an amusing look at the possible effects.