Protein-Fueled Fruit Flies More Likely to Produce Successful Sons

A GW biology researcher published a paper linking high-protein paternal diets to increased success in offspring mating.

A GW study found fruit flies that consumed high-protein diets were more likely to have offspring that were more successful when competing with other males.
February 16, 2017

By Kristen Mitchell

The diet of a fruit fly can determine the success his sons will have in mating, according to a paper co-authored by a George Washington University researcher. The study found flies that consumed high-protein diets were more likely to have offspring who were more successful when competing with other males.

The study was conducted by Mollie Manier, an assistant professor of biology in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and senior author of the paper “High-protein Paternal Diet Confers an Advantage to Sons in Sperm Competition.” The paper was published Wednesday in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

The study examined how high and low protein paternal larval diets influences sexual selection and gene expression on sons of Drosophila melanogaster, a common fruit fly. The study found the environment a parent experiences can influence traits important for evolutionary success in offspring.

Because females in nature usually mate with multiple males, there is competition for fertilization of her eggs. Dr. Manier’s lab seeks to understand what determines paternity success. Dr. Manier and researchers previously affiliated with GW now at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and Doñana Biological Station in Seville, Spain, found that when fathers are reared on a high-quality diet, their sons are more successful competing for fertilizations with other males, even when they themselves are raised on a standard diet.

Dr. Manier said the consequences of the parental environment for evolutionary fitness of the next generation can be far-reaching in diverse but poorly understood ways.

“The effects of parental environment on competitive reproductive success has never before been documented and opens the door to new research on transgenerational effects of diet and other conditions on reproductive success in sons and daughters,” she said.

Maternal effects on offspring are well documented, but less is understood about paternal effects that can have a significant impact on an offspring’s phenotypes, an organism’s appearance based on interactions between its genes and environment.

Studies on the consequences of parental diet have previously focused on metabolism and cardiovascular health around conditions like obesity and heart disease, Dr. Manier said. This study’s findings show these transgenerational effects can also affect paternity success, a selective pressure that can drive rapid evolution and coevolution of male and female traits. It can also play an important role in the formation of new species.

The results have implications for understanding biodiversity and phenotypic evolution, Dr. Manier said.

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