Editorial: What Factors Influence Mate Selection?

Author:  Alexander Patananan

Institution:  UCLA
Date:  April 2008

How does one find a mate? That phrase in itself strikes fear into the hearts of many who are looking for the perfect husband or wife. Often enough, this is the most important decision that is to be made in one's life, whether they are a human or some other organism. As a consequence, much research has been targeted to this topic, with some speculating that certain aspects of an individual influence choice.

Currently, there are numerous theories pertaining to the relevance of certain factors involved in mate selection, particularly when it is the female making the choice. Of these, many reasons are quite obvious and intuitive. For example, one theory states that females discriminate between males based upon territory ownership and of their ability to provide for food and paternal care. Another theory, based on the model organism Drosophila, argues that it is pheromones released by the male that influence female mate choice. Yet another hypothesis relates body size to selection. It is clear from the above mentioned points that this concept is extremely complex. To further increase the debate, recent research has pointed to certain features in the genome which appear to have some authority as well. Of these, microsatellites, or various tandem repeats of short nucleotide sequences, appear to be associated with female mate choice. One of these involves the microsatellite avpr1a in the vasopressin 1a receptor (V1aR) gene.

avpr1a is a microsatellite associated with a variety of functions. Vasopressin itself is an important neuropeptide regulating certain social behaviors such as paternal care, and the formation of pair-bonds. In humans, some studies have suggested that this microsatellite is correlated to hypertension, autism, and various human behaviors. Research in prairie voles indicates that the length of avpr1a is pivotal in mate selection. For instance, a longer avpr1a microsatellite results in increased vasopressin 1a receptor gene products, and consequentially not only increases the parental care abilities by the male, but also positively affects female preference.

In their paper "Body Size has a Greater Influence on Female Mate Choice than Length of Microsatellite Region of the avpr1a gene in Male Prairie Voles," Lisa M. Aschemeier, Brian Keane, and Nancy G. Solomon from Miami University investigate if female prairie voles do base their mate selection on avpr1a microsatellite length using various scientific methods such as the polymerase chain reaction. To find out what results they obtained, please consult their article in the April 2008 issue of the Journal of Young Investigators.