Epigenetics Genetics

Animals’ social experience modifies genes?

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So genes don’t rule?  From ScienceDaily:

Mice have a reputation for timidity. Yet when confronted with an unfamiliar peer, a mouse may respond by rearing, chasing, grappling, and biting — and come away with altered sensitivity toward future potential threats.

What changes in the brain of an animal when its behavior is altered by experience? Research at the University of Illinois led by Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology Lisa Stubbs is working toward an answer to this question by focusing on the collective actions of genes. In a recent Genome Research publication (DOI: 10.1101/gr.214221.116), Stubbs and her colleagues identified and documented the activity of networks of genes involved in the response to social stress.

“The goal of this study was to understand the downstream events in mice, and how they are conveyed across interacting brain regions . . . how they might set the stage for emotional learning in response to social threat,” said Stubbs. Answers to these questions could help scientists understand how the brains of other animals, including humans, generate social behavior, as well as what goes wrong in disorders of social behavior. Paper. (paywall) – Michael C. Saul1,12, Christopher H. Seward1,2,12, Joseph M. Troy1,3, Huimin Zhang1,2, Laura G. Sloofman1,4, Xiaochen Lu1,2, Patricia A. Weisner1,5, Derek Caetano-Anolles1,2, Hao Sun1, Sihai Dave Zhao1,6, Sriram Chandrasekaran7,8,9, Saurabh Sinha1,4,10,11 and Lisa Stubbs1,2,5 More.

On the other hand, do we want to teach rodents to stand up to cats?

See also: There’s a gene for that… or is there?


Epigenetic change: Lamarck, wake up, you’re wanted in the conference room!

7 Replies to “Animals’ social experience modifies genes?

  1. 1
    Bob O'H says:

    The answer to the question in the title is “No”. The social experience alters gene expression, not the genes themselves.

  2. 2
  3. 3
    Mung says:

    Bob O’H:

    The answer to the question in the title is “No”. The social experience alters gene expression, not the genes themselves.

    What’s the difference?

    Oh, and who even knows what a gene is anymore.

  4. 4
    Bob O'H says:

    Mung – the gene is the sequence of DNA. The expression is the transcription of the DNA into RNA (and, presumably, then translated into a polypeptide).

  5. 5
    LarTanner says:

    Bob O’H,

    Thanks for the distinction. What do you make of the OP’s opening question, “So genes don’t rule?” Seems like the writer is referring to the gene itself (vs. gene expression), and from your answer it would appear that the “rulership” of genes includes a number of different ways genes can get expressed.

    Would you say it’s the prevailing view that genes “rule,” as suggested by the opening question?

  6. 6
    Mung says:

    Bob O’H:

    Mung – the gene is the sequence of DNA.

    What sequence of DNA? Which sequence of DNA? There are innumerable sequences of DNA. Are all of them genes?

    The answer is no, they are not all genes. You are leaving something out. What makes a gene a gene is not that it is a sequence of DNA.

    Try again.

  7. 7
    Bob O'H says:

    Lars – I don’t think we would say that genes do or don’t rule. An organism’s form is the result of a process where genes and the environment interact (and some intrinsic non-genetic factors too. Because biology isn’t complicated enough already). For some traits genes are most important, for others not so much.

    Mung – the OP was predicated on the idea that there is a gene, so take that up with Denyse, not me. As far as I’m concerned, the notion of a gene is well enough understood by most people, at least for the purposes of this discussion.

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