Not quite 'roid rage: Complicated gene networks involved in fly aggression

Sep 29, 2011
Hyper-aggressive fruit flies box, albeit without the gloves. Aggressive flies have smaller brain portions and aren't necessarily soothed by mood-altering drugs.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Fruit fly aggression is correlated with smaller brain parts, involves complex interactions between networks of important genes, and often cannot be controlled with mood-altering drugs like lithium.

Those are the results of a painstaking study conducted by researchers at North Carolina State University and colleagues in Belgium who are trying to discover what happens in the and brains of hyper-aggressive flies and how that differs from what takes place in more passive fly cousins.

Dr. Trudy Mackay, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished University Professor of Genetics and a co-lead author of a paper published this week in , says that the findings in the fruit fly could one day lead to helping humans – think of Alzheimer’s patients who suddenly become more aggressive – by providing a framework of how complex gene interactions affect behavior. are model organisms for studying genes and traits like aggression.

In the study, the researchers showed that making changes, or mutations, to a handful of genes made some passive flies aggressive and made some aggressive flies really aggressive. They also showed the effects of mating flies with different mutations to see which mutant combinations had larger effects on aggression.

The researchers also showed that certain portions of the fly – the so-called mushroom bodies, which affect locomotion, experience and memory – were smaller in the hyper-aggressive flies.

The study also showed that calming did not necessarily come through chemistry, as doses of soothed some but not all of the aggressive flies. These mixed results were also evident when flies were given two other types of calming drugs.

“This study shows that these brain networks are not simple, and that you can’t look at just one gene at a time,” says study co-author Dr. Robert Anholt, William Neal Reynolds Professor of Biology at NC State.

The researchers measured by watching for fly actions that include, in order from less aggressive to more aggressive: chasing other flies; puffing up their wings in a “wing threat” position; kicking other flies; and, for the roughest flies, standing on their back legs and boxing other flies with front legs.

Explore further: Meteorite that doomed dinosaurs remade forests

More information: Complex Genetic Architecture of Drosophila Aggressive Behavior. Published: The week of Sept. 26, 2011, in the online version of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Related Stories

Fruit Fly Aggression Study Has Human, Animal Relevance

Sep 20, 2006

Even the tiny, mild-mannered fruit fly can be a little mean sometimes – especially when there’s a choice bit of rotten fruit to fight over. And, like people, some flies have shorter tempers than others.

Scientists study fighting flies

Aug 16, 2006

U.S. researchers say they have conducted the first comprehensive molecular analysis of aggressive behavior in a laboratory species.

Study finds genes behind alcohol sensitivity in fruit flies

Oct 31, 2007

Some fruit flies can drink others under the table. Now, scientists at North Carolina State University have a few more genetic clues behind why some flies are more sensitive to alcohol than others. And the results might lead ...

Recommended for you

Meteorite that doomed dinosaurs remade forests

12 hours ago

The meteorite impact that spelled doom for the dinosaurs 66 million years ago decimated the evergreens among the flowering plants to a much greater extent than their deciduous peers, according to a study ...

New camera sheds light on mate choice of swordtail fish

14 hours ago

We have all seen a peacock show its extravagant, colorful tail feathers in courtship of a peahen. Now, a group of researchers have used a special camera developed by an engineer at Washington University in ...

App helps homeowners identify spiders

17 hours ago

Each autumn the number of spiders seen indoors suddenly increases as males go on the hunt for a mate. The Society of Biology is launching a new app to help the public learn more about the spiders that will ...

User comments : 0