Swotting up on sex differences

Sep 18, 2006

A University of Queensland researcher is investigating the genetic triggers of key differences between males and females including longevity and particular disease rates.

Dr Steve Chenoweth, a Senior Lecturer with UQ's School of Integrative Biology, is using a native species of fruit fly, Drosophila serrata, to understand how genomes are able to produce two very different forms – males and females.

"Differences between males and females make up a substantial component of diversity in the biological world, with the sexes often differing in size, shape and colour. The catch from a genetic standpoint is that males and females share almost all of their genes. Because of this, many genes that benefit one sex may actually be harmful to the other," Dr Chenoweth said.

"In birds, a gene that causes brightly coloured plumage in males may have advantages in terms of attracting a mate whereas its effect in a female could be a distinct disadvantage, making her more noticeable to predators for example. These so-called sexually antagonistic genes are a real problem, and how species have come to deal with their detrimental effects while maintaining their benefits remains a mystery for modern genetics."

He said while the genes for sex differences may be shared, the trigger for their development or suppression might be located on sex chromosomes.

"Once we understand where these sex-specific triggers are and how they work, there is potential for developing intervention methods to control sex differences in the development of certain diseases such as heart disease – much higher rate among men – as well as areas such as longevity – women on average live a lot longer than men," he said.

Together with several of his postgraduate students, he will collect thousands of flies for the next phase of his study from the floor of North Queensland's tropical rainforests this summer.

The flies are so small – just 2mm long – they must be netted then sucked up through a plastic straw by researchers before being transferred to glass bottles for transportation back to Dr Chenoweth's laboratory.

Dr Chenoweth, from Holland Park West, returned to a research career after a two-year stint as an investment banker in the United Kingdom and investigated laboratories throughout the world including at Harvard before deciding on a postdoctoral position at UQ in 2002.

Surprisingly, he said biological research and the heady world of banking had much in common.

"Although these fields are worlds apart, many of the quantitative and computational skills required are really very similar," he said.

Source: University of Queensland

Explore further: Science of romantic relationships includes gene factor

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

House fly sex may reveal one key to controlling them

Nov 18, 2014

The quest of University of Houston professor Richard Meisel to understand how and why males and females differ may one day lead to a more effective means of pest control - namely, the pesky house fly.

Sex, genes, the Y chromosome and the future of men

Nov 14, 2014

The Y chromosome, that little chain of genes that determines the sex of humans, is not as tough as you might think. In fact, if we look at the Y chromosome over the course of our evolution we've seen it shrink ...

Science casts light on sex in the orchard

Oct 30, 2014

Persimmons are among the small club of plants with separate sexes—individual trees are either male or female. Now scientists at the University of California, Davis, and Kyoto University in Japan have discovered ...

A battle for ant sperm

Oct 28, 2014

And you thought the sexual battles between people could get weird and fierce? Try ants. In a new study, biologists at the University of Vermont have discovered some queen ants that make sexual bondage into ...

Recommended for you

Science of romantic relationships includes gene factor

17 hours ago

(Medical Xpress)—Adolescents worry about passing tests, winning games, lost phones, fractured bones—and whether or not they will ever really fall in love. Three Chinese researchers have focused on that ...

Stress reaction may be in your dad's DNA, study finds

Nov 21, 2014

Stress in this generation could mean resilience in the next, a new study suggests. Male mice subjected to unpredictable stressors produced offspring that showed more flexible coping strategies when under ...

More genetic clues found in a severe food allergy

Nov 21, 2014

Scientists have identified four new genes associated with the severe food allergy eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE). Because the genes appear to have roles in other allergic diseases and in inflammation, the ...

Brain-dwelling worm in UK man's head sequenced

Nov 20, 2014

For the first time, the genome of a rarely seen tapeworm has been sequenced. The genetic information of this invasive parasite, which lived for four years in a UK resident's brain, offers new opportunities ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.