Apparently, male worms would rather have sex than eat, if push comes to shove.

Research conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Centre looked into subtle changes in the brain’s circuits and how they showed the contrasting behaviour in women and men.

For the study, a roundworm called C. elegans was looked at. Researchers focused on a couple of neurones called AWA, which are linked to finding a partner and also hunger. The scientists called in two genders of the worms; males and hermaphrodites, who are mating partners for males and are seen as the equivalent of females.

The slimy creatures were put into a Petri dish and given food, with the option to search for a mate or eat. Some of the worms had been genetically engineered to be more sensitive to the smell of food, and had their neurones tampered with.

While the normal male worms left their food source and hunted for a mating partner, the genetically mutated ones were hungrier and less likely to mate as they were keen to stay by their food. The hermaphrodite worms just waited by their food and wouldn’t go out of their way to find another worm.

The study was published in the journal Current Biology, and points towards the idea that males are more likely to suppress their hunger in search of sex.

“While we know that human behaviour is influenced by numerous factors, including cultural and social norms, these findings point to basic biological mechanisms that may not only help explain some differences in behaviour between males and females, but why different sexes may be more susceptible to certain neurological disorders,” assistant Professor Douglas Portman said, from the Department of Biomedical Genetics and Center for Neural Development and Disease.

“These findings show that by tuning the properties of a single cell, we can change behaviour.

“This adds to a growing body of evidence that sex-specific regulation of gene expression may play an important role in neural plasticity and, consequently, influence differences in behaviours – and in disease susceptibility – between the sexes.”

It may have been conducted on worms, but C. elegans have long been used by researchers and have previously lead to a better understanding of human behaviour.

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