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“The Romance Gene”

 Permission pending. http://members.shaw.ca/tbazett/images/Romance.jpg

Is one gene really responsible for courtship behavior?

For those individuals having trouble romancing members of the opposite sex, a recent discovery may provide the answer.

A Gene for Romance? So It Seems (Ask the Vole) Click here for the article.  

On July 19, 2005, Nicholas Wade, of the New York Times reported that the fruitless gene found in Drosophila is responsible for the courtship abilities of the male of the species. Although the information found in this article is accurate, the title sensationalizes the information found in the article. Based on the title one would assume the article is about humans due to the word romance or even about voles, as the title suggest asking a vole. The article mentions voles in about four sentences and instead focuses on the courtship behavior of Drosophila.

The main difference between the scientific paper and this article is scientific detail. The author does a nice job of summarizing the conclusions of the scientific papers, but provides very little information on the methods used to collect data. He mentions that flies were genetically engineered to posses’ different gender specific traits and behaviors, but offers very little detail of how this happens or why this is of interest.

There are also some places in the article where I feel the science is too heavy and would be difficult to understand without some prior knowledge of how proteins are produced. For instance “the gene is arranged in a series of blocks. Different combinations of blocks are chosen to make different protein products (Wade, 2005).” The article then goes on to say that different promoters are responsible for the order of the “blocks”.  Although a very nice simplified version of what is actually taking place is given, the author assumes the ability of the reader to piece together too much information at once.

Overall, the article is well written and provides enough scientific background to help the reader understand the general concepts of the discovery. The title is misleading, but catchy.

Scientific Journal Articles

            There were three articles written on the fruitless gene in Drosophila published in the June 3, 2005, edition of Cell magazine. One review article, Sex and the Single Splice, covering the findings of the other two articles, fruitless Splicing Specifies Male Courtship Behavior in Drosophila and Neural Circuitry that Governs Drosohphila Male Courtship Behavior, which both talk about the fruitless gene.

Review Article

The review article by Catherine Dulac is written for an audience with a better background in science than the article written in the New York Times. Sex and the Single Splice does a nice job on combining and summarizing the two articles in a manner which is easy to read and comprehend for an individual with some background knowledge. The article focuses more on the methods used in the two main articles. This article also has a title that is meant to be catchy, but does provide a more scientific approach to the topic than the NY Times article.

Journal Articles

fruitless Splicing Specifies Male Courtship Behavior in Drosophila

Demir and Dickson (2005) show that the courtship behavior in male Drosophila is due to the alternative splicing of the fru gene. The title of this paper unlike the titles of the other two article is an accurate portrayal of the scientific findings, not a sensationalized heading to attract readers. This paper is written for a reader with a good background in molecular biology, genetics or genomics.

Demir and Dickson (2005) begin by stating that behavioral genes are very difficult to find and characterize, but mention that they believe they have found a gene that is both sufficient and necessary to create the courtship behavior in male Drosophila. They refer to this gene as a "switch" gene. A behavioral switch gene is one that can "create the potential for a complex innate behavior (Demir and Dickson, 2005)." They prove this by creating a a set of mutants, that include males that cannot splice fru properly, Females that splice fru as if they were male, and males and females missing tra, a gene needed to direct the splicing of fru. The authors found that when the female had the male version of fru, it courted other females, and when the males did not have the wild-type male fru, they did not court females. The same was true for the absence and presence of tra in both the females and males.

The article also talks more in depth about the possibility of this gene regulating neural circuits, which is what the second paper discusses.

Neural Circuitry that governs Drosophila Male Courtship Behavior

Stockinger et. al (2005), show that the male splicing of the fruitless gene is capable of directing the male courtship behavior. The splicing alone can give the individual everything neurologic they would need to perform courtship behavior. This paper also requires a much greater understanding and knowledge to comprehend then methods used to determine the neural fru transcription patterns.

This paper shows that the fru gene products are found in neuronal clusters in the brain and they even interact in the neurons as a circuit. This circuit accounts for the males ability to smell sex pheromones released from members of the opposite sex. These findings are significant and further support the findings of the first paper suggesting that the fru gene is both sufficient and necessary to provide the male the innate ability to perform courtship of the female.

Interestingly, the NY Times article only mentions one line about this entire article as the article mentions that the fru protein is found in 21 clusters of neurons.


The New York Times article on the A Gene for Romance? So It Seems, was well written and very informative. The title was misleading in it's use of the word romance, as the article was not about humans. The information in this article was lacking scientific detail and when details waere introduced they were often hard to follow and could have been very confusing to individuals without a scientific background. The article does a good job of cutting out some of the non-essential scientific information simplifying it for the average reader. Overall the NY Times article does a good job conveying difficult and complex information to the average reader in a format they will understand.

The Review article has more scientific detail than the NY Times article and also does a better job of discussing both Journal Articles. The title Sex and the Single Splice is meant to be catchy yet informative. (It obviously worked because I read it!) This is a good arcticle for those who do not posses the time or ambition to tackle the more robust journal articles. It provides more detailed methods and provides a more in depth discussion of the findings, rather than just the "splashy" findings.

The journal articles provide very detailed and often difficult to understand methods as well as more complete results of the studies. The language in which these articles are written is not for the average reader, rather for someone with advanced knowledge in the scientific area. The methods and results are covered in much more detail and are often accompanied by many figures making the results easier to understand. These articles often thought provoking and provide starting points for future research.

When comparing the different ways to read about scientific information, one has to first ask themselves what type of information they are looking to find. If you are looking for an overview, that often lacks significant scientific detail then choose the Popular press versions. If you are looking for scientific detail with a more thorough discussion comparing and critiquing papers, then a review paper is the correct choice. If you are a scientist at heart then the only real option is the scientific journal articles. They posses all the information needed for comprehension, but also allow you to be critical of the findings.

A Gene related to fru

Dsx is a protein that regulates male and female morphological development. Dsx was once thought to be related to fru, but the findings in this paper suggest that fru directs the behavior of males and females based on its splicing, while dsx only regulates morphological development (Demir and Dickson, 2005).



Demir E, Dickson BJ. 2005 June. fruitless Splicing Specifies Male Courtship Behavior in Drosophila. Cell 121:785-794.

Dulac C. 2005 June. Sex and the Single Splice. Cell 121:664-666.

Stockinger P, Kvitsiani D, Rotkopf S, Tirian L, Dickson BJ. 2005 June. Neural Circuitry that Governs Drosophila Male Courtship Behavior. Cell 121:795-807.

Wade N. A Gene for Romance? So It Seems (Ask the Vole). July 19, 2005. New York Times. <http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/19/science/19gene.html?ex=1126756800&en=73ff9a02525831cd&ei=5070> Last accessed on September 13, 2005.


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