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Researchers boost insect aggression by altering brain metabolism
Date:8/5/2014

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Scientists report they can crank up insect aggression simply by interfering with a basic metabolic pathway in the insect brain. Their study, of fruit flies and honey bees, shows a direct, causal link between brain metabolism (how the brain generates the energy it needs to function) and aggression.

The team reports its findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The new research follows up on previous work from the laboratory of University of Illinois entomology professor and Institute for Genomic Biology director Gene Robinson, who also led the new analysis. When he and his colleagues looked at brain gene activity in honey bees after they had faced down an intruder, the team found that some metabolic genes were suppressed. These genes play a key role in the most efficient type of energy generation in cells, a process called oxidative phosphorylation.

"It was a counterintuitive finding because these genes were down-regulated," Robinson said. "You tend to think of aggression as requiring more energy, not less."

In the new study, postdoctoral researcher Clare Rittschof used drugs to suppress key steps in oxidative phosphorylation in the bee brains. She saw that aggression increased in the drugged bees in a dose-responsive manner, Robinson said. But the drugs had no effect on chronically stressed bees they were not able to increase their aggression in response to an intruder. (Watch a video of honey bees responding to an intruder.)

"Something about chronic stress changed their respons
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Contact: Diana Yates
diya@illinois.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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