Planet Earth

How Gut Bacteria Rule the Sex Lives of Fruit Flies

80beatsBy Andrew MosemanNov 2, 2010 3:48 PM


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From Ed Yong

Imagine taking a course of antibiotics and suddenly finding that your sexual preferences have changed. Individuals who you once found attractive no longer have that special allure. That may sound far-fetched, but some fruit flies at Tel Aviv University have just gone through that very experience. They’re part of some fascinating experiments by Gil Sharon, who has shown that the bacteria inside the flies’ guts can actually shape their sexual choices.

The guts of all kinds of animals, from flies to humans, are laden with bacteria and other microscopic passengers. This ‘microbiome’ acts as a hidden organ. It includes trillions of genes that outnumber those of their hosts by hundreds of times. They affect our health, influencing the risk of obesity and chronic diseases. They affect our digestion, by breaking down chemicals in our food that we wouldn’t normally be able to process. And, at least in flies, they can alter sexual preferences, perhaps even contributing to the rise of new species.

For more about how Sharon altered the flies

' microbiome—and therefore their love interests—check out the rest of the post

at Not Exactly Rocket Science. Related Content: Not Exactly Rocket Science: You are what you eat – how your diet defines you in trillions of ways

Not Exactly Rocket Science: An Introduction to the Microbiome

80beats: Scientists Peer Into the Brain of a Fruit Fly in Mid-Flight

80beats: Alcoholic Fruit Flies Don’t Know When to Say When

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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