Flies behaving badly

04 April 2013

Fruit-Fly By-Andre-Karwath
© Andre Karwath

Tiny fruit flies, Drosophila, are likely to have their own personalities, leading some into bad behaviour, says new research from a team led by Professor Scott Waddell, Co-Director of Oxford Martin School’s Programme on Mind and Machine.

The study has found widespread ‘transposition’ in the fly brain, suggesting that each fly is a unique individual.

Transposons, or ‘jumping genes’, have the ability to change position within the genome and possibly cause mutation. The inherent randomness of the process is likely to make every fly brain unique, potentially providing behavioural individuality, or fly personality.

“We have known for some time that individual animals, which are supposed to be genetically identical, behave differently”, says Professor Waddell. “The extensive variation between fly brains that this mechanism could generate, might demystify why some behave while others misbehave”.

“Our hope is that we can learn to halt neural transposition in the fly in order to determine whether it provides the mechanistic explanation for behavioural variation. Our work also suggests that neural transposition could be a contributing factor to age-related cognitive decline.”

Waddell notes that neural transposition has been described in rodent and human brains, and transposons have historically been considered to be problematic parasites. This research identifies many new transposons in a number of important memory-related genes. However, whether this is detrimental or advantageous remains an open question.

Photo by Andre-Karwath