The secret lives of fruit flies

A "60 Minutes" video exclusive shows that depriving fruit flies of sleep screws up their sex lives.

By Catherine Price
Published March 18, 2008 6:40PM (EDT)

All right. I promised you a piece about the sex lives of sleep-deprived fruit flies, and goddamn it, I'm going to give it to you. A "60 Minutes" report on sleep has a video segment that is a high contender for my favorite fruit fly movie ever. (Once you're at the main site, click on the video link with the fruit flies in the petri dish. Warning: I got the video to work the other night but now it seems to just be playing me pet food commercials -- if someone has a fix, do tell.)

The basic gist of the piece is that when you deprive fruit flies of sleep, they become really bad at mating. In the first clip -- where the flies are relatively frisky -- the male wastes no time in mounting his companion. But in the second, which was shot after a period of sleep deprivation, the guy fly seems to have forgotten what brought him to the petri dish in the first place (besides, of course, the researcher's tweezers). Despite being in close vicinity to a "very attractive" female, he doesn't try to get with her. Rather, one fly sits in the center of the dish as the other walks in circles around the dish's circumference, exhibiting a dazed and confused behavior frequently exhibited at fraternity after-parties.

The geneticist is hesitant to extrapolate what sleep deprivation might mean for humans' sex lives, but I think most people inherently realize that pulling an all-nighter does not leave you in the best shape for scromping. Hanging out in a science lab, however, seems to have a positive effect. My favorite part of the video is the flirtatious repartee between the reporter and the geneticist as they watch the fruit flies get it on. I wouldn't have been surprised if, after filming stopped, the two of them shared their own petri dish for a while. All in the name of science, of course.

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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