Joel Levine



My current research focuses on the genetic basis of social interactions in Drosophila melanogaster. Most of our efforts in the laboratory are captured by four themes:

  1. Synchrony: We are investigating the hypothesis that circadian clocks help the fly anticipate and coordinate social interactions, acting as a physiological ‘appointment calendar'. Many of the genes and cells that define circadian clocks are known and our findings suggest that biological clocks within the brain and other tissues regulate social interactions.
  2. Recognition: Recognition is a condition for social behaviour. We have demonstrated that individuals can discriminate members of their group from non-members. Our studies have also shown that chemosensory transduction guides social behaviours. For example we have shown that D. melanogaster uses the same pheromone as an identification tag for sex and species, a finding that links social organization to speciation and evolution.
  3. Communication: While recognition occurs within an individual, social interactions depend on communication between individuals. We have been investigating pheromonal communication. Like circadian clocks, a focus on pheromonal signaling immediately points toward genes and cell circuits that underlie this function and also social behaviour.
  4. Interactive phenotype: Inherited traits are usually considered in terms of the individual. But in the same way that an enzymatic interaction relies on structure-function relationships between various proteins, it is conceivable that social interactions may rely on interlocking elements that facilitate relationships between individuals. These elements may be inherited by individuals, yet serve to enact primitive ties that facilitate social interactions. If elements of social ties are in the genes, they might be identified via genetic mutations that interrupt the usual patterns of social interaction. We are investigating new interactive phenotypes that will help us to identify ‘social’ genes. We expect that many of these genes will enrich our understanding of social behaviour.



  • Billeter, J.C., Atallah, J., Krupp, .J.J, Millar, J.G. and Levine, J.D. 2009. Specialized cells tag sexual and species identity in Drosophila melanogaster. Nature 461(7266): 987-92.
  • Krupp, J.J., Kent, C., Billeter, J.C., Azanchi, R., So, A.K., Schonfeld, J.A., Smith, B.P., Lucas, C. and Levine, J.D. 2008. Social experience modifies pheromone expression and mating behaviour in male Drosophila melanogaster. Current Biology 18(8) 1373-83 Epub 2008 Sept 11.
  • Kent, C., Azanchi, R., Smith, B., Formosa, A. and Levine, J.D. 2008. Social context influences chemical communication in D. melanogaster males. Current Biology 18(8) 1384-9 Epub 2008 Sept 11.
  • Levine, J.D. 2008. Glia and romance. Nature Neurosci. 11:8-10.
  • Kent, C., Azanchi, R., Smith, B., Chu, A. and Levine, J.D. 2007. A model based analysis of chemical and temporal patterns of cuticular hydrocarbons in male Drosophila melanogaster. PLoS ONE 2(9):e962.
  • Belay, A., Scheiner, R., So, A. K-C., Douglas, S., Chakaborty-Chatterjee, M., Levine, J.D. and Sokolowski, M.B. 2007. The foraging gene of Drosophila melanogaster: spatial expression analysis and sucrose responsiveness. J. Comp. Neurol. 504(5): 570-582.
  • Ejima, A., Smith,B.P.C., Lucas, C., van der Goes van Naters, W., Carlson, J., Levine, J.D. and Griffith, L.C. 2007. Generalization of courtship learning in Drosophila is mediated by cis-vaccenyl acetate. Current Biology 17:599-605.
  • Douglas, S.J. and Levine, J.D. 2006. Sex cells: dissecting the functions of fruitless isoforms, Current Biology 16(11):R405-7.
  • Ejima, A., Smith, B.P.C., Lucas, C., Levine, J.D. and Griffith, L.C. 2005. Sequential learning of pheromonal cues modulates memory consolidation in trainer-specific associative courtship conditioning. Current Biology, 15:194-206.
  • Levine, J.D. Sharing time on the fly.(2004) Curr Opin Cell Biol. 16(2):210-216.