The recent discovery of sex-linked patterns of aggressive behaviour in Drosophila melanogaster, has added one more role in the lab for the fruit-fly.

Male Drosophila exhibit aggression in competition for resources, to defend territory and for access to mate, displaying a stereotyped, sex-specific aggressive fight pattern, characterized by “boxing” and “lunging”. The outcome of male fights establishes a dominance relationship and therefore will influence the outcome of subsequent fights. Female fruit-flies show a different pattern marked by “shoving” and “head-butting”. It seems that the outcome of female fights is independent of previous encounters.

On these bases, in the recent past Drosophila melanogaster has been used as a system to study the genetics of aggression. 

Vrontou and colleagues of the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology Doctor Bohr-Gasse (Wien, Austria) link the gene fruitless (fru) to sex-specific aggressive behaviour and the formation of dominance relationship in Drosophila (Vrontou E., et al., fruitless regulates aggression and dominance in Drosophila. Nature Neuroscience 9, 1469-1471, 2006).

This study shows that fru, a sex-specifically spliced transcription factor with a well established role in courtship behaviour, genetically links aggression and courtship in mammalian-like behavioural patterns. It will be interesting to see if these studies can be applied to vertebrate and give us new insights into genetics of human behaviour.


BM&L-January 2007