Female flies' immune genes turned on by males' song Skip to main content

Female flies' immune genes turned on by males' song

Fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) (c)Darren Obbard/ University of Edinburgh Fruit flies may have evolved to cope with the potential trauma of mating

Related Stories

The courtship trill of a male fruitfly is an exciting sound for a female; it literally heightens her senses as she prepares to mate.
But a study has revealed that the sound also has an unexpected effect on the female's immune system.
Researchers have discovered that, for a female fly, preparation for mating involves the "rather unromantic" anticipation of potential infection.
The findings are reported in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.
Elina Immonen and Mike Ritchie from the University of St Andrews, UK, carried out the study. They wanted to understand what genes were "switched on" when a fly prepares to mate.
The genetic snapshot of an amorous female helps build a picture of the basic biological building blocks that make a creature want to reproduce. And fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) are the perfect creatures for such a study; the function of almost every one of their genes has been documented.
"Basically, we wanted to know what [genetic] changes take place in the female when she's being stimulated by a sexy guy," said Prof Ritchie.
To investigate this, the team played female fruit flies a recording of the "song" that males produce by vibrating their wings. They then produced a read-out of the flies' active genes.
This showed that when the female heard the courtship song of a male of the same species, she would "generally get excited", Prof Ritchie explained.
For example, genes in the female's antennae - which are essentially her ears - were "switched on".
"But the big surprise," said Prof Ritchie, "was that genes involved in immune function were also switched on.
"It appears that if she hears a sexy song, she knows she's likely to mate soon, so she makes the physiological change to prepare for mating - that involves [increasing the activity of] immune genes."
Trauma of sex Prof Ritchie explained that the female fruit flies had probably evolved to "cope" with the potential harm caused to them by mating.
This is something that Prof Mike Siva-Jothy from the University of Sheffield says makes evolutionary sense.
His work on bed bugs revealed that the insects deliberately damaged the females when they mated - stabbing her through the abdomen in order to inject sperm.
"This is an extreme example, but often, looking at extreme examples sheds light on what's going on in many species," he told BBC Nature.


  • Like many insects, fruit flies use their antennae to "sniff out" a potential mate. This chemical communication is vital for social insects to recognise and interact with each other
  • Scientists are able genetically "programme" the sexual behaviour of some fruit flies. In a recent study, scientists took control of flies' brains to make females behave just like males
  • To cope with their "traumatic" mating technique, male bed bugs protect their sperm against sexually transmitted infections by producing germ-busting ejaculates
He added that there was "lots of evidence" in insects that males routinely damage female genital tracts during mating, so he thinks that the immune switch-on that surprised the St Andrews team is probably an example of something that occurs throughout the insect world.
"My proposal is in any situation where you have predictable exposure to pathogens, you might expect females to anticipate the damage and... to respond.
"It's an idea that meshes very nicely with what [this study] has shown."



Popular posts from this blog

Chronology of the Press in Burma

1836 – 1846 * During this period the first English-language newspaper was launched under British-ruled Tenasserim, southern  Burma . The first ethnic Karen-language and Burmese-language newspapers also appear in this period.     March 3, 1836 —The first English-language newspaper,  The Maulmain Chronicle , appears in the city of Moulmein in British-ruled Tenasserim. The paper, first published by a British official named E.A. Blundell, continued up until the 1950s. September 1842 —Tavoy’s  Hsa-tu-gaw  (the  Morning Star ), a monthly publication in the Karen-language of  Sgaw ,  is established by the Baptist mission. It is the first ethnic language newspaper. Circulation reached about three hundred until its publication ceased in 1849. January 1843 —The Baptist mission publishes a monthly newspaper, the Christian  Dhamma  Thadinsa  (the  Religious Herald ), in Moulmein. Supposedly the first Burmese-language newspaper, it continued up until the first year of the second Angl

Thai penis whitening trend raises eyebrows

Image copyright LELUXHOSPITAL Image caption Authorities warn the procedure could be quite painful A supposed trend of penis whitening has captivated Thailand in recent days and left it asking if the country's beauty industry is taking things too far. Skin whitening is nothing new in many Asian countries, where darker skin is often associated with outdoor labour, therefore, being poorer. But even so, when a clip of a clinic's latest intriguing procedure was posted online, it quickly went viral. Thailand's health ministry has since issued a warning over the procedure. The BBC Thai service spoke to one patient who had undergone the treatment, who told them: "I wanted to feel more confident in my swimming briefs". The 30-year-old said his first session of several was two months ago, and he had since seen a definite change in the shade. 'What for?' The original Facebook post from the clinic offering the treatment, which uses lasers to break do

Myanmar Villagers Tell of 150 Homes Burned in Deadly Army Air Attacks

Artillery fire and aerial bombardments by Myanmar forces killed three civilians and burned scores of houses in their communities in mid-March amid fighting between Myanmar forces and the rebel Arakan Army in war-ravaged Rakhine state, villagers recounted Monday at a press conference. Villagers from Kyauktaw township in western Myanmar's Rakhine state discuss the government military's attacks on their communities at press conference in Sittwe, March 30, 2020. They made the comments after traveling from in Kyauktaw township to the state capital Sittwe to give testimony on a series of attacks on civilian dwellings amid a government-imposed internet shutdown in nine townships in Rakhine and neighboring Chin state, cutting off vital information about the fighting. They villagers accused the Myanmar Army of conducting an aerial bombing on civilian communities that destroyed about 150 homes and a monastery in Pyaing Taing village, while government soldiers on the g