PUBLISHED: 10:06 EST, 27 June 2012 | UPDATED: 10:21 EST, 27 June 2012
A new study has shaken the foundations of sexual selection theory as it has been understood since 1948.
New research at UCLA examined the famous fruit fly study conducted by English geneticist Angus John Bateman.
The findings undermine the long-accepted theory that men are hard-wired to be unfaithful while women seek monogamy.
Led by Patricia Adair Gowaty, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA, and thanks to the help of advanced DNA analysis, the report found that females may be just as promiscuous as males.
In fact, Dr Gowaty, told Science Daily, Bateman’s study should never even have been published.
Musing on the reasons why the original experiment was never retried, Dr Gowaty offered: ‘Our worldviews constrain our imaginations.
‘For some people, Bateman’s result was so comforting that it wasn’t worth challenging. I think people just accepted it.’
Bateman’s original method involved isolating fruit flies – three of each gender – in a jar, and examining the results of their procreation, specifically the parentage of the offspring spawned.
In order to this at a time when DNA analysis was not available, the scientist relied on severe mutation to show lineage and used only mutated specimens in the original six to ten put in the jar whose offspring would display similar unique characteristics.
By looking only at the offspring with two mutations so he could know accurately which fruit flies had mated to produce them, Bateman determined that males produced many more offspring from multiple mates while females produced the same number of adult children whether with one mate or many.
This conclusion shaped the way we have understood sexual promiscuity and infidelity ever since.
But according to Dr Gowaty, this process had a singular but ‘fatal flaw’.
When along with a team of professors and research scientists, she recreated the experiment with new technology, she found that the infant fruit flies with two severe mutations were less likely to survive into adulthood.
As a result, many may have therefore died before even being counted by Bateman.
This rendered the new study’s data inconclusive if not all offspring could be accounted for.
Bateman’s original 1948 paper became significant in the 1970s and has been cited in nearly 2,000 other scientific studies and yet despite the fact that science relies on multiple re-studies, it was never retried until now.
‘Here was a classic paper that has been read by legions of graduate students, any one of whom is competent enough to see this error,’ Dr Gowaty said. ‘Bateman’s results were believed so wholeheartedly that the paper characterized what is and isn’t worth investigating in the biology of female behavior.’
For her part, Dr Gowaty has spent the last 30 years studying exactly that in the case of the Eastern bluejay and her findings have shown that in a socially monogamous species, females regularly take on multiple mates.
According to the UCLA professor, this habit may very well be nature’s answer to surviving disease – the greatest evolutionary challenge we face.
The report was funded by National Science Foundation and published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.