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Fruit fly aggression studies have relevance to humans, animals

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.

Researchers in the North Carolina Sate University genetics department have identified a suite of genes that affect aggression in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, pointing to new mechanisms that could contribute to abnormal aggression in humans and other animals.

The study, led by doctoral student Alexis Edwards in the laboratory of Dr. Trudy Mackay, William Neal Reynolds Professor of Genetics, appears online in PloS Genetics.

Feisty flies themselves may not be very scary, but their genes and biochemistry have more in common with those of humans than the casual observer might suspect, and geneticists can subject flies to experiments that simply can't be done on higher organisms.

To measure aggression, the researchers starved male flies for an hour and a half, then gave them a small food droplet and watched them duke it out, counting the number of times a focal fly would chase, kick, box, or flick his wings at other flies.

"Some animals will very vigorously defend their little food patch, whereas others are relatively polite," Mackay said. "To determine if this had a genetic basis, we conducted a selection experiment."

For the selection experiment, Edwards pulled three groups of flies high aggression, low aggression and control from the same baseline population, and kept them separate for 28 generations. From each generation, she selected the most aggressive flies from the high aggression group, the least aggressive flies from the low aggression group, and a random sample of the control flies, to be the parents of the next generation.

All the flies started at the same level of aggression, but after 28 generations of selection, the high aggression groups were kicking, chasing and boxing more oft
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Contact: Mick Kulikowski
mick_kulikowski@ncsu.edu
919-515-3470
North Carolina State University
20-Sep-2006


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