[06-10-2011 to 31-12-2012]
Female flies' immune genes turned on by males' song
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 by Elina Emmonen and Prof Mike Ritchie, School of Biology, University of St Andrews, has revealed that the sound also has an unexpected effect on the female's immune system.
Their research goal was to understand what genes were "switched on" when a fly prepares to mate. 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 which showed that when the female heard the courtship song of a male of the same species, she would "generally get excited", Prof Ritchie explained.
To their surprise, In addition to genes in the female's antennae - which are essentially her ears - being "switched on", the team found 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."
So for a female fly, preparation for mating appears to involve the "rather unromantic" anticipation of potential infection.
The findings are reported in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.
see here for further details
contact: Prof Mike Ritchie