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Beyond nature vs. nurture: Williams syndrome across cultures

LA JOLLA, CA Nobody questions that the color of our eyes is encoded in our genes. When it comes to behavior the concept of "DNA as fate" quickly breaks down it's been long accepted that both genes and the environment shape human behavior. But just how much sway the environment holds over our genetic destiny has been difficult to untangle.

Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have found a clever way to sort one from the other: They compared the social behavior of children with Williams syndrome known for their innate drive to interact with people across cultures with differing social mores. Their study, published in a forthcoming issue of Developmental Science, demonstrates the extent of culture's stamp on social behavior.

"Overall, a consistent result has emerged from our research," summarizes lead author Ursula Bellugi, director of the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience at the Salk. "Regardless of age, language or cultural background, Williams syndrome social phenotype is shaped both by genes and interactions with the environment."

The current research is just one piece in a puzzle that a large collaboration of scientists under the umbrella of a long-running Program Project from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development has been trying to piece together over the last decade. Led by Bellugi, the researchers are looking to Williams syndrome to provide clues to some of the mysteries of the genetic basis of behavior. Much of the research revolves around the work of molecular geneticist Julie R. Korenberg, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UCLA and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute, who has been studying the genetic basis of Williams syndrome for the last decade.

Virtually everyone with Williams syndrome has exactly the same set of genes with one strand missing, a small set of genes on chromosome 7, but some rare cases with different size deletions sparked t
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Contact: Gina Kirchweger
Kirchweger@salk.edu
858-453-4100
Salk Institute
24-Jan-2007


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