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Thursday, 14 June 2018

Fruit flies don't procrastinate


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Writers procrastinate. When I find myself cleaning the toilets, I know I’m in trouble. Recent procrastination has been more pleasant but equally pernicious. I’ve been reading about fruit flies and sex in the undergrowth. I can’t even say it was in the interests of research, but it might come in useful one day.

Next time you hear a fly buzz, you may decide to pause before swatting. The fruit fly buzzes to mate. It attracts the female and makes her . . . receptive, which is a nice way of putting it.

 As I  read on, I became equally intrigued by the minds of those doing the studying. Do we need to know that the fruit fly indulges in foreplay, licking its mate’s genitalia or that at this very moment, scientists are trying to pinpoint which part of the fly’s brain or ‘reward centres’ are turned on by certain sexual acts? Worse, there are scientists encouraging orgasms in flies. They have created sex clubs for them, where masturbation is encouraged. It all sounds very dry but not presumably for the fly.

It’s a process called optogenetics. This modifies an insect so that specific neurons can be activated using light. Neurons involved in ejaculation can be activated by using red light, which the insect cannot see. Given the choice between a neutral zone and the red light district, it is a no brainer even for a fruit fly. The fear was that once in the red zone, they wouldn’t be able to stop. It didn’t seem to bother flies, however, most staying seven minutes or longer. As one of the scientists said, ‘The flies preferred to self administer and be in the activation zone.’ Who’d a thunk?

Mind you, it’s not all ‘self administering.’  Insects have their darker side, too. I’d never regarded bees as male chauvinists before——insects in general for that matter—not until I read about ‘mating plugs.’ These ensure that after mating, the female is prevented from re-mating; a retrospective chastity belt if you will. Fruit flies, bless them, use toxic seminal fluid guaranteed to put off those who come after. The human male is governed by much the same urge to procreate, but his instinct remains more generous than that of the insect.


1 comment:

LD Masterson said...

Mike, I'm not sure how quite yet, but I've got to find a way to work this post into my next conversation. Preferably with my sons and/or grandsons just to see their reactions. Thank you!