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Sleep, Sex, and Drosophila

60 Minutes ran a special on the science of sleep this week. The special included an interview with Scott McRobert about sleep deprivation and mating in Drosophila.

So if lack of sleep impacts our appetite, our metabolism, our memory, and how we age, is there anything it doesn’t affect? How about sex? Scientist Scott McRobert at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia is asking that very question, studying fruit flies.

McRobert could be seen showing Lesley Stahl a fly in a vial, which he then sucked up in a pooter. He then placed that male, along with a female, in a small dish.

Stahl watched as McRobert used a bizarre contraption to suck a male drosophila (fruit fly) out of a vial and put him into a little dish with a female.

McRobert does the play by play as the male courts the female.

McRobert gave Stahl a play-by-play of the action. “Okay. So now, the female’s walking around the outside of the chamber,” McRobert explains. “And the male’s in the center. And you see he’s orienting toward her, everywhere she goes.”

“He’s following her. If you watch closely, he’ll touch her with his front legs. It’s hard to see, but he will. And he’ll sing. Here comes the song,” McRobert says.

That’s right, Drosophila can sing.

Flies sing, he tells Stahl, by lifting one wing to the side and vibrating it up and down.

And then: they do it! That’s right, CBS showed footage of S-E-X on the TeeVee. Really. It was HAWHT!!!

But the special is on sleep, so they then do the same experiment with a sleep-deprived male. This male’s courtship behavior can be described as disinterested. That’s right, sleep-deprivation makes flies less horny. Rather than sing to the female, the male spends his time rubbing his hands together. It’s just sad.

McRobert, however, is tentative to relate his findings to humans:

“If you want to take this to the level of humans. And this is something that geneticists rarely do if they’re smart. And I probably shouldn’t do it either. But the take-home lesson is ‘Get enough sleep,’” McRobert says. “I mean, the successful male drosophila is a drosophila that gets enough sleep.”

I’ve embedded the relevant video below. You can see McRobert featured at the 8 minute mark.

While Stahl and the 60 Minutes crew refer to Drosophila as “fruit flies”, McRobert knows better. This is from his website:

My research focuses on the genetic, ecological, and evolutionary aspects of animal behavior. Animals utilized in my work include pomace flies (genus Drosophila), fish, turtles, and frogs.

Mel Green would be proud.

Comments

  1. #1 Woozle
    March 19, 2008

    I haven’t figured out why yet, but sleep deprivation seems to me to be such a logical explanation for the sudden onset of “modern” diseases – sexual dysfunction, diabetes, obesity, and just ordinary ennui.

    There must be a fairly recent cause for some of these (well, sexual dysfunction has been a problem for thousands of years), but the obesity connection to lack of sleep (and needing more sleep when the body has to work so much harder) does appear to be reasonable.

  2. #2 Woozle
    March 19, 2008

    I haven’t figured out why yet, but sleep deprivation seems to me to be such a logical explanation for the sudden onset of “modern” diseases – sexual dysfunction, diabetes, obesity, and just ordinary ennui.

    There must be a fairly recent cause for some of these (well, sexual dysfunction has been a problem for thousands of years), but the obesity connection to lack of sleep (and needing more sleep when the body has to work so much harder) does appear to be reasonable.

  3. #3 Woozle
    March 19, 2008

    I haven’t figured out why yet, but sleep deprivation seems to me to be such a logical explanation for the sudden onset of “modern” diseases – sexual dysfunction, diabetes, obesity, and just ordinary ennui.

    There must be a fairly recent cause for some of these (well, sexual dysfunction has been a problem for thousands of years), but the obesity connection to lack of sleep (and needing more sleep when the body has to work so much harder) does appear to be reasonable.

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