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Chumminess Of Roundworms Linked To Single Gene, Offering Insight Into Mechanisms,,Of Social Behaviors

Some roundworms dine alone, while others sup socially, and the reason for the variation, report UC San Francisco researchers, comes down to a single gene. Their study, the cover article in the September 4 Cell, offers a startling insight into the influence that a single gene can have on behavior.

The gene identified is closely related to the neuropeptide Y receptor gene in humans, which has previously been implicated in controlling appetite. This serendipitous finding offers the tantalizing suggestion, still in the realm of speculation, said the researchers, that some element of the roundworm gene has been conserved in higher species through evolution. Regardless, the finding would not suggest a genetic explanation for why some party goers nibble on their own and others cluster around the potato chips.

What it does offer, said the senior investigator of the study, Cornelia I. Bargmann, PhD, an assistant investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a professor of anatomy at UCSF, is an avenue for exploring the relative contribution of single and multiple genes to the development of innate behaviors, particularly social behaviors.

In contrast to survival skills, like mating and feeding, social behaviors can develop in more than one successful manner amongst species and within species, and have evolved relatively often through time. Such so-called natural variations are dramatized in the big cats, tigers being solitary and lions social. They are also seen within humans, shyness being a courting strategy for some, and brazenness for others.

While it is the way in which environmental stimuli play the genetic cords of higher species that creates unique responses in complex animals, insights into the genetic component could offer some understanding of the way in which behaviors develop. Genetic influences are particularly pronounced in simpler creatures, which lack intricate character
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Contact: Jennifer O'Brien
jobrien@itsa.ucsf.edu
(415) 476 2557
University of California - San Francisco
3-Sep-1998


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