A Match Made in Heaven… Or on a Rotting Pile of Ground Beef

I remember recently reading an article by The Onion (warning: a bit graphic; mildy NSFW) about a flies mating. In summary, it’s about flies mating on a pile of rotting meat and how it enhanced the experience. To humans, this putrid smell may offset the mood. Little did I know that The Onion was sort of scientifically right: smell plays an important role in the courtship of flies.

Rebecca’s chalk talk, The Role of Or47b in Drosophila Courtship Learning Behavior, further explained the science behind smell and mating. For some context, there’s a gene called the fruitless gene (fru for short) that is key to courtship. When a frumutant fly (meaning a mutant fruitless gene fly) is coupled with another fly, it won’t do the courtship behavior; however, it can learn the behavior after being around normal fru flies.

There’s also a type of gene called an orco gene that’s involved in the olfactory, or smell, of the fly. When a fru (no mutation) AND orcomutant (can’t smell) fly is coupled with a normal fly, it also does not court and it can’t learn to court when around normal fru flies.
Rebecca’s research investigates a specific olfactory gene: Or47b. This gene is a more specific subset of the orco gene. Her hypothesis is: a fru AND Or47b mutant will not learn to court and she tests this by watching them mate for a few hours every day!

Maybe she can do another experiment to see if certain smells cause flys to mate sooner or more often (maybe rotting ground beef as The Onion suggests).

Thanks for the insight, Rebecca!

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