Saturday, August 13, 2005

Conclusion: Some People Think They Are Fruit Flies

Elisabeth Rosenthal reports from the NYTimes that scientists have found a single gene that controls sexual orientation in fruit flies:

In a series of experiments, the researchers found that females given the male variant of the gene acted exactly like males in courtship, madly pursuing other females. Males that were artificially given the female version of the gene became more passive and turned their sexual attention to other males. So the conclusion is, females are genetically programmed to be passive? (No wait, that's right-wing sociobiology and it's EVIL.)

"We have shown that a single gene in the fruit fly is sufficient to determine all aspects of the flies' sexual orientation and behavior," said the paper's lead author, Dr. Barry Dickson, senior scientist at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. "It's very surprising. "What it tells us is that instinctive behaviors can be specified by genetic programs, just like the morphologic development of an organ or a nose."

The results are certain to prove influential in debates about whether genes or environment determine who we are, how we act and, especially, our sexual orientation, although it is not clear now if there is a similar master sexual gene for humans.

Certainly they will, since the analogy is so close. Both fruit flies and NYTimes reporters are pests that instinctively converge on rotting substances (fruits in one case, ideas in the other).

Still, experts said they were both awed and shocked by the findings. "The results are so clean and compelling, the whole field of the genetic roots of behavior is moved forward tremendously by this work," said Dr. Michael Weiss, chairman of the department of biochemistry at Case Western Reserve University. " Hopefully this will take the discussion about sexual preferences out of the realm of morality and put it in the realm of science."

He added: "I never chose to be heterosexual; it just happened. But humans are complicated. With the flies we can see in a simple and elegant way how a gene can influence and determine behavior."

Well, humans are complicated, but Dr. Weiss seems to be a bit on the simple side. Maybe that's why he thinks his brain works like a fruit fly's. After all he should know. If you say so, Mike . . .

The finding supports scientific evidence accumulating over the past decade that sexual orientation may be innately programmed into the brains of men and women. Equally intriguing, the researchers say, is the possibility that a number of behaviors - hitting back when feeling threatened, fleeing when scared or laughing when amused - may also be programmed into human brains, a product of genetic heritage.

Another brilliant finding! When someone slugs you, you get mad. Ergo, the Christian Right is a bunch of morons.

All the researchers cautioned that any of these wired behaviors set by master genes will probably be modified by experience. But that's just in fruit flies, right? Though male fruit flies are programmed to pursue females, Dr. Dickson said, those that are frequently rejected over time become less aggressive in their mating behavior.

Well, sure fruit flies can learn. But any analogy along those lines with human beings would be premature. After all, that would be bringing morality into it.

When a normal male fruit fly is introduced to a virgin female, they almost immediately begin foreplay and then copulate for 20 minutes. In fact, Dr. Dickson and his co-author, Dr. Ebru Demir of the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology, specifically chose to look for the genetic basis of fly sexual behavior precisely because it seemed so strong and instinctive and, therefore, predictable.

Kind of like left-wing ideological behavior. Maybe there's a gene for that?

Originally posted at Here We Stand