Fruit Fly Cells Are Identical, Despite Sex

ASHBURN, Va., May 10 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they have discovered most cells in fruit flies’ bodies are identical, regardless of whether they are in a male or a female.

Although researchers can tell if a fruit fly is male or female by skin pigmentation patterns and genitalia differences, most flies’ body parts look identical in males and females. But until now, scientists didn’t know whether “maleness” or “femaleness” extended to all of the insect’s cells and tissues.

The new research at the Janelia Farm Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute showed the cells are identical because the influence of sex-determining genes is restricted to specific tissues.

“It’s a simple observational study with profound implications,” said Bruce Baker, who led the research with colleagues Carmen Robinett, Alex Vaughan and Jon Michael Knapp. He said the findings demonstrate only a subset of cells is likely to know whether they are male or female.

“It may be broadly true that males and females are made up of a mosaic of cells that know their sex and cells that don’t,” Baker said. If similar findings emerge, Baker said it could shake up the entire notion of sex differences in the animal kingdom and if it’s found the findings apply to humans, “it’s certainly going to change our sociological view of what we think of as maleness and femaleness.”

The study appears in the journal PLoS Biology.

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