Friday, June 10, 2005

DNA of Deadbeat Voles May Hint at Why Some Fathers Turn Out to Be Rats

Larry J. Young/Yerkes National Primate Research Center
Prairie voles on gels of their DNA, a possible clue to their home life.

Excellent article in today's New York Times.
Some male prairie voles are devoted fathers and faithful partners, while others are less satisfactory on both counts. The spectrum of behavior is shaped by a genetic mechanism that allows for quick evolutionary changes, two researchers from Emory University report in today's issue of Science.
People have the same variability in their DNA, with a control section that comes in at least 17 lengths detected so far, Dr. Young said.
The Emory researchers recently noticed that in their prairie vole colony, some fathers spent more time with their pups and some less. They traced the source of this variability to its molecular roots, a variation in the length of the DNA region that controls a certain gene.

This is the gene for the vasopressin receptor, the device used by neurons to respond to vasopressin. Voles with long and short DNA segments had different patterns of vasopressin receptors in their brains, which presumably changed their response to the hormone.

In Voles, a Little Extra DNA Makes for Faithful Mates news article in Science.
Prairie voles are renowned for being faithful mates, but some individuals are more faithful than others. The difference may lie in their so-called junk DNA.

... Elizabeth Hammock and Lawrence Young of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, report that fidelity and other social behaviors in male prairie voles seem to depend on the length of a particular genetic sequence in a stretch of DNA between their genes. The longer this repetitive sequence, or microsatellite, the more attentive males were to their female partner and their offspring. Those with shorter microsatellites neglected their mates and pups, at least to some degree.

Although there's no evidence that human infidelity or poor parenting stems from similar variations, Hammock and Young, as well as other researchers, have begun to explore whether microsatellites can account for behavioral differences between people and primates such as chimps and bonobos.

Microsatellite Instability Generates Diversity in Brain and Sociobehavioral Traits: the research article on vole genetics and behaviour in today's Science Magazine.

Here is Young's web page at Emory University

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