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Wasps use ancient aggression genes to create social groups
Date:2/10/2014

said Christina Grozinger, professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, Penn State. "In contrast, in honey bees, which are advanced social insects, aggression genes control altruistic defensive behavior -- for example, when guard bees sting a predator or even a beekeeper, and die in the process. In solitary species, like fruit flies and mice, the same set of aggression genes controls fighting between males over territory. So the same genes are involved in aggression across species, but are now being used in different ways by different organisms."

According to Grozinger, the results suggest that model organisms -- such as bees and mice -- can be used to study aggression in humans because they share some of the same genes that regulate aggression behaviors, even if those behaviors are now quite different.

In addition to learning that aggression genes are shared among organisms, the team also found that these genes are extremely sensitive to the external environment.

"We found that the most important influence on expression of genes in the brains of paper wasps was external factors, such as the season and how large the colony was at the time," Toth said. "This indicates the important role of external cues in shaping the molecular processes that regulate behavior."

The results, which appear today (Feb. 10) in BMC Genomics, provide new insight into the debate between nature and nurture, according to Grozinger.

"Everyone agrees that both nature -- including genes and physiology -- and nurture -- including diet, environment and social interactions -- contribute to the likelihood that an individual will behave in a certain way or develop a disease," Grozinger said. "But our results show that the external environment plays a much greater role in regulating expression of genes in the brain, which ultimately regulates behavior, than physiology. This is very surprising."

The scientists plan to use their findings
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Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
aem1@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert  

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