Social interactions alter gene expression

Nov. 6, 2008 at 3:19 PM
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill., Nov. 6 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they have discovered social interactions can alter the brain's genetic expression far more significantly than has been thought.

University of Illinois researchers said our DNA determines a lot about who we are and how we play with others. "But recent studies of social animals -- birds and bees, among others -- show the interaction between genes and behavior is more of a two-way street than most of us realize," the researchers said.

Professors Gene Robinson and David Clayton of the University of Illinois and Russell Fernald of Stanford University, all co-authors of the new study, said newly sequenced genomes of several social animals, including honey bees and zebra finches, and new technologies such as microarrays, are leading researchers to understand "there is a dynamic relationship between genes and behavior," Robinson said. "Behavior is not etched in the DNA."

An organism's genes, its environment, the social information it receives, "all these things interact," said Clayton. "Experience is constantly coming back in to the level of the DNA and twiddling the dials and the knobs."

The research is reviewed in the journal Science.

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