Like Father, Like Son

Tuesday, June 29, 2010
By Jackie

Note from Ms. Baker: This summer, I’m working in the Nitabach Lab in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Yale as part of a NIH grant.  My goal is to create an AP Biology-level lab curriculum that uses Drosophilia to teach students concepts related to classical & modern genetics, physiology, and animal behavior.  In honor of this, I’m reposting this student post written by a former AP Biology student.  It was originally posted on December 9, 2007.

Photo by Chromalux

Many animals have a type of mating call which attracts the female to them in order to mate.  If a female is attracted to a charismatic male and they produce offspring, would their offspring be attractive as well?

Scientists have been searching for evidence to be able to determine if attractiveness could be hereditary. To do this, scientists in England used the Drosophila simulans fruit fly. In this species, the female is attracted to the male by their personality and flirtations.

What kind of personality and flirtations? Well, the Drosophila male flies sometimes have a “courtship song” or a mating song that attracts the female to the male. The way that they produce these “songs” is by the movement of their wings. Certain patterns and pulses produce different types of “songs”.

Another way that makes the males attractive is the pheromones that are produced.  Pheromones are sometimes sex-specific and are released by certain glands or cells to trigger the behavioral response of the opposite sex of the same species. Specialized sensory structures or cells recognize pheromones.  The neurons are thought to be responsible for the detection of pheromones in Drosophila.

The scientists paired the males and females together and looked at the average time it took them to mate. By using common sense, if they mated quickly, such as 5 minutes, then they concluded that those males are attractive to the females. If it took a longer time to mate, then most likely they do not have as much charisma as the other flies.

The offspring (sons) of the flies were paired with single females. They repeated their step in observing the amount of time it took them to mate. Just like the scientists thought, the attractive males that they started with, in fact, DID produce attractive sons!

After seeing this, scientists wondered if this same idea could be spread across to all species.  Does this mean attractiveness is hereditary in other insects or species as well?

David Hosken, an evolutionary biologist who worked on the study said, “Extrapolating from one species to another closely related species should be done with caution. Knowing lots about one species may tell you little about another.  We must remember this when we make hypotheses of other species.”

Is this kind of attractiveness shown in Drosophila also hereditary in humans?  What similarities do you notice between Drosophila and humans? Do you think it’s impossible to pull predictions about our species from Drosophila?

Jackie (the author of this post) examines a sample of anesthetized Drosophila melanogaster!

One Response to “Like Father, Like Son”

  1. Morris B

    I think it is really interesting that male flies attract females with a song that they make from their wings, that to most people just sounds likes a annoying buzzing sound.


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