Friday, November 28, 2008


I am still engaged with the special issue of Science (November 7) on the Genetics of Behavior. Consider this abstract of an article called "Wired for Sex: The Neurobiology of Drosophila Mating Decisions" by Barry J. Dickson:
Decisions about whom to mate with can sometimes be difficult, but making the right choice is critical for an animal's reproductive success. The ubiquitous fruit fly, Drosophila, is clearly very good at making these decisions. Upon encountering another fly, a male may or may not choose to court. He estimates his chances of success primarily on the basis of pheromone signals and previous courtship experience. The female decides whether to accept or reject the male, depending on her perception of his pheromone and acoustic signals, as well as her own readiness to mate. This simple and genetically tractable system provides an excellent model to explore the neurobiology of decision making.
Ah, yes, mating decisions. We all know about that. We all have our pheromones, hormones, wiggle dances and courtship songs. Dickson gives us a sweet little diagram of Drosophila courtship (click to enlarge). The outcome? Yes or no? Home base or strike out? It's like the cover of Cosmo for fruit flies.

Except a Cosmo diagram would be rather more complicated. Fruit flies apparently only have one "sex position." Cosmo offers "a different sex position for each day of the month." Fruit flies need only sniff and listen. Cosmo offers "a dozen ways to drive him wild in bed."

Dickson, of course, is cautious about extrapolating decison-making in Drosophila to more complex organisms, such as ourselves. He does say, however: "There may be only a limited set of efficient neural solutions to complex behavioral problems, including difficult decisions such as choosing a mate." Elvis Presley's Love Me Tender is a more sophisticated invitation to romance than the simple hum on the diagram above, but -- who knows? -- maybe? -- yes? no? -- we may have more in common with fruit flies than we care to admit.