On Valentine’s Day, it’s good to know that humans aren’t the only creatures who court: fruit flies fall in love too! Scientists have taken an important step toward understanding human mating behavior by showing that certain of their genes become activated when they interact with the opposite sex, meaning that courtship behaviors may be far more influenced by genetics than previously thought (are men PROGRAMMED to buy their girlfriends flowers?)

Biologist Ginger E. Carney has a Valentine’s Day warming: "Be careful who you interact with. The choice may affect your physiology, behavior and health in unexpected ways." The scientists compared gene expression profiles in males that courted females, males that interacted with other males (meaning that gay love is just as valid as heterosexual), and males that did not interact with other flies. The investigators identified a common set of genes that respond to the presence of either sex. They also discovered that there are other genes that are only affected by being placed with members of a particular sex, either male or female. Does this mean that people who fail to connect with others are somehow mutants? The researchers that tested mutant flies that are missing some of these socially responsive genes confirmed that these particular genes are important for behavior.

Fruit flies don’t send valentines, but humans have done this throughout the ages. Be mine. Yours forever. You hold the key to my heart. Classicists can’t help but notice the difference between modern Valentine’s Day cards filled with sentimental sayings and ancient Romans’ wrenching expressions of love. Today’s valentines focus on sharing, caring, love and friendship. The beloved is portrayed as gentle, sensitive, tender and compassionate. However, the ancient Romans had quite a different take on love. Historian Barbara Gold says, "Love for them was interesting, both to live and to write about, because it was painful, like a disease. Roman lovers described themselves as "wounded, wretched, enslaved by their lovers, having their bone marrow on fire and suffering from double vision. They melded coarse obscenities with deepest expressions of sexual, erotic longing. Above all, there was no sharing or caring and no real idea of a friendship of equals." It turns out that modern humans are less like our ancient ancestors and more like fruit flies!

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