Does genetic priming guide selection of sex partners?

April 8th, 2009 - 12:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, April 8 (IANS) Why do some females prefer certain males for mating? A team of American and Australian scientists, in experiments with fruit flies, has discovered that ‘genetic priming’ may be responsible.
“Our research helps to shed light on the complex biochemistry involved in mate selection and reproduction,” said Mariana Wolfner, developmental biologist at Cornell University, who led the study.

“These findings may lead to ways to curb unwanted insect populations by activating or deactivating genes that play a role in female mating decisions,” she added.

Scientists mated two different strains of fruit fly females to males either from their own strain or to males from the other strain.

They noted the males with which females of each strain tended to mate and then examined whether the females showed differences in behaviour soon after mating and in reproduction-related activities, such as how many offspring were produced and how many sperm were stored.

They also examined the females’ RNA to compare the genes expressed in females mated to males of different strains.

They found that despite observed differences in mating behaviours and reproduction activities in females mated to different strains of males, there were only negligible mating-dependent differences in gene expression between the groups.

This suggests that genetic changes involved in mate choice and reproduction were in place before mating began, said a Cornell release.

“It appears that females really do care about the character of their consorts,” said Mark Johnston, editor-in-chief of Genetics, “but they may not have as much control over our choice of mates as they’d like to think.”

These findings were published in the April issue of Genetics.

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