Monday, June 06, 2005

Gay Gene Found

Well, at least for fruit flies. But this is a very interesting development. These researchers have succeeded in producing homosexual insects, which in itself isn't really something you'd want to think about for a long time. But in this day and age where the PFOX types chant the mantra "There is no gay gene," it is meaningful that, at least somewhere in the animal kingdom, there is in fact a gay gene. Modifying it turns female fruit flies into lesbians, and makes males try to hit on one another.
When the genetically altered fruit fly was released into the observation chamber, it did what these breeders par excellence tend to do. It pursued a waiting virgin female. It gently tapped the girl with its leg, played her a song (using wings as instruments) and, only then, dared to lick her - all part of standard fruit fly seduction.

The observing scientist looked with disbelief at the show, for the suitor in this case was not a male, but a female that researchers had artificially endowed with a single male-type gene.

That one gene, the researchers are announcing today in the journal Cell, is apparently by itself enough to create patterns of sexual behavior - a kind of master sexual gene that normally exists in two distinct male and female variants.

In a series of experiments, the researchers found that females given the male variant of the gene acted exactly like males in courtship, madly pursuing other females. Males that were artificially given the female version of the gene became more passive and turned their sexual attention to other males.

"We have shown that a single gene in the fruit fly is sufficient to determine all aspects of the flies' sexual orientation and behavior," said the paper's lead author, Dr. Barry Dickson, senior scientist at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. "It's very surprising. For Fruit Flies, Gene Shift Tilts Sex Orientation

Of course, the sex lives of fruit flies are ... simpler ... than those of human beings. So don't look for a single gene to flip people's sexual preferences any time soon.
The results are certain to prove influential in debates about whether genes or environment determine who we are, how we act and, especially, our sexual orientation, although it is not clear now if there is a similar master sexual gene for humans.

Still, experts said they were both awed and shocked by the findings. "The results are so clean and compelling, the whole field of the genetic roots of behavior is moved forward tremendously by this work," said Dr. Michael Weiss, chairman of the department of biochemistry at Case Western Reserve University. "Hopefully this will take the discussion about sexual preferences out of the realm of morality and put it in the realm of science."

He added: "I never chose to be heterosexual; it just happened. But humans are complicated. With the flies we can see in a simple and elegant way how a gene can influence and determine behavior."

The finding supports scientific evidence accumulating over the past decade that sexual orientation may be innately programmed into the brains of men and women.

Ho! Back up. I'm going to reprint a sentence for those who skip through the quoted passages.

"Hopefully this will take the discussion about sexual preferences out of the realm of morality and put it in the realm of science."

Isn't that an interesting concept? Like, imagine if the public schools were able to teach about sexual orientation as a scientific concept, and not just as an evaluative judgment. Imagine treating gay students as if there was nothing wrong with them, talking about the whole thing like the biological surprise that it is.

Hey, I'm wondering something. What do the fundamentalists think about genes? Do they believe that God made genes that control physical development and, as we see here, behavioral predispositions -- but not evolution, which works by modifying those genes? They like to say "There is no gay gene," so they must believe that genes exist, and they obviously agree that it is possible for one to control sexual orientation. But what will they do when a "gay gene" is actually found? Will genetics be thrown on the heretical junk-heap like other scientific truths that make Biblical explanations of empirical phenomena more difficult?

And before we run this down by saying, it only applies to bugs, let's remember that one of the main reasons biologists study fruit-fly chromosomes is just that their lives are short -- a generation can come and go very quickly, and you can see what the effect of a change is. The same processes apply, and in fact many of the same exact genes exist on fruit-fly and human chromosomes.


Anonymous Gleeful said...

I'm wondering whether you can re-read that article.

It does not say that they found a gay gene. It says they found a sexuality gene. Then they transplanted it.

June 13, 2005 4:52 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

It says they found a gene, which when replaced with the opposite allele, resulted in homosexual behavior. It was not a "sexuality" gene, it didn't control whether the insect engaged in sexual behavior. The gene determined the preferred sex of the partner. Gay gene, yes, that's what it was.

This was one of your weaker tries, Gleeful.

June 13, 2005 6:04 PM  
Anonymous Gleeful said...

Let me simplify for you:

If they take something out of a male fly and put it in a female fly, then what they have done is make a male fly engage in feminine behavior.

In order to have something approaching a "gay" gene, they would have to find a gene IN MALES that caused them to engage in homosexual behavior.

June 14, 2005 9:33 AM  
Anonymous Gleeful said...

Er, first para should be "If they take something out of a female fly and put in a male fly, then what they have done is make a male fly engage in feminine behavior."

June 14, 2005 9:34 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Gleeful, do you know what an "allele" is?

June 14, 2005 12:37 PM  

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