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Stephen Goodwin’s team in the Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour have made a significant breakthrough in understanding the neural pathway in male fruit flies that allows them to perform their complex mating ritual.

Doublesex is a gene responsible for the differences in anatomy and behaviour of males and females in many animal species.  Writing in eLifesciences, Hania Pavlou et al., identified a circuit of doublesex-expressing neurons in males that controls the act of sex itself. Located in the fruit fly’s equivalent of the spinal cord, this circuit includes motor neurons, inhibitory interneurons, and mechanosensory neurons. Exploiting the power of drosophila genetics, they were able to perturb the activity of these neurons and stop males from mating.

The results suggest the doublesex gene configures a circuit specific to males, which allows them to successfully execute the correct action sequence for both the initiation and termination of sex. The findings also indicate that the mechanics of mating are separate from those of reproduction.

Stephen Goodwin will be speaking at the Annual Oxford Neuroscience Symposium on the 22rd March 2017