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Geneticists reveal how parenting rewires the beetle brain

"It is exciting science when you take a step toward predicting the genetic changes involved in a behavior as complicated as parental care," researcher Allen Moore said.

By
Brooks Hays
Parenting results in significant changes to the brains of burying beetles. Photo by Allen Moore/UGA
Parenting results in significant changes to the brains of burying beetles. Photo by Allen Moore/UGA

Feb. 14 (UPI) -- In a new study, a team of geneticists at the University of Georgia showed how parenting transforms the brain of burying beetles.

Their experiments showed the act of parenting changes the makeup of neuropeptides produced in the beetle brain. Neuropeptides are proteins linked with mating, feeding, aggression and increased social tolerance.

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"We tested the idea that we could predict the genetic pathways involved in parenting based on old predictions from ethologists in the 1960s and 1970s," Allen Moore, head of the department of genetics at UGA, explained in a news release. "When [burying beetle] parents feed their babies, they are feeding others rather than themselves and so genes that influence food-seeking behavior are likely to be involved."

Moore and his colleagues set out to test the hypothesis that beetle brains alter the production neuropeptides by modifying existing genetic pathways, not forming new ones.

Burying beetles are intimately involved in the parenting process, regurgitating food for their whining offspring. Researchers compared neuropeptide gene expression between parenting and non-parent beetles. They found the abundance of several neuropeptides were significantly altered during parenting.

Researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

"It is exciting science when you take a step toward predicting the genetic changes involved in a behavior as complicated as parental care," Moore said.

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