Breaking News
December 13, 2018 - Novel way to efficiently deliver anti-parasitic medicines
December 13, 2018 - RKI publishes new data on disease prevention and utilization of medical services
December 13, 2018 - High-tech, flexible patches sewn into clothes could help to stay warm
December 13, 2018 - Restoring Hair Growth on Scarred Skin? Mouse Study Could Show the Way
December 13, 2018 - Probiotic use may reduce antibiotic prescriptions, researchers say
December 13, 2018 - Drug repositioning strategy identifies potential new treatments for epilepsy
December 13, 2018 - Chronic rhinitis associated with hospital readmissions for asthma and COPD patients
December 13, 2018 - Food poisoning discovery could save lives
December 13, 2018 - Cloned antibodies show potential to treat, diagnose life-threatening fungal infections
December 13, 2018 - Exercise may reduce colorectal cancer risk after weight loss
December 13, 2018 - Russian scientists create hardware-information system for brain disorders treatment
December 13, 2018 - Moderate alcohol consumption linked with lower risk of hospitalization
December 13, 2018 - Nurturing Healthy Neighborhoods | NIH News in Health
December 13, 2018 - Rise in meth and opioid use during pregnancy
December 13, 2018 - Researchers gain new insights into pediatric tumors
December 13, 2018 - FSU study finds racial disparity among adolescents receiving flu vaccine
December 13, 2018 - Drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off energy supply
December 13, 2018 - Baculovirus virion completely eliminates liver-stage parasites in mouse model
December 13, 2018 - Researchers create noninvasive technology that detects when nerve cells fire
December 13, 2018 - Inability to do daily living tasks delays discharge of mental health patients
December 13, 2018 - Treating patients with hypertension induced albuminuria
December 13, 2018 - New substance could improve efficacy of established breast cancer treatments
December 13, 2018 - Scientists develop new stem cell line to study conversion of stem cells into muscle
December 13, 2018 - Re-programming the body’s energy pathway boosts kidney self-repair
December 13, 2018 - Research findings could help improve treatment of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders
December 13, 2018 - The Microbiome Movement announce Microbiotica as official industry partner
December 13, 2018 - New study reveals potential benefits of cEEG monitoring for infant ICU patients
December 13, 2018 - Whole-body imaging PET/MRI offers information to guide treatment options for prostate cancer
December 13, 2018 - International investigators fight against the negative campaign on benzodiazepines
December 13, 2018 - Targeting biochemical pathway may lead to new therapies for alleviating symptoms of anxiety disorders
December 13, 2018 - FDA Approves Tolsura (SUBA®-itraconazole capsules) for the Treatment of Certain Fungal Infections
December 13, 2018 - Are scientists studying the wrong kind of mice?
December 13, 2018 - Computer memory: A scientific team builds a virtual model of a key brain region
December 13, 2018 - Visual inspection alone is insufficient to diagnose skin cancer
December 13, 2018 - Paternal grandfather’s access to food associated with grandson’s mortality risk
December 13, 2018 - Our brain senses angry voices in a flash, study shows
December 13, 2018 - PM2.5 Exposure Linked to Asthma Rescue Medication Use
December 13, 2018 - Can’t exercise? A hot bath may help improve inflammation, metabolism, study suggests
December 13, 2018 - Can artificial intelligence help doctors with the human side of medicine?
December 13, 2018 - Virginia Tech and UC San Diego researchers team up to develop nonopioid drug for chronic pain
December 13, 2018 - NIH offers support for HIV care and prevention research in the southern United States
December 12, 2018 - Activating brain region could revive the urge to socialize among opioid addicts
December 12, 2018 - Relationship impairment appears to interfere with seeking mental health treatment in men
December 12, 2018 - Sleep, Don’t Cram, Before Finals for Better Grades
December 12, 2018 - Effective treatments for urticarial vasculitis
December 12, 2018 - Gun violence is a public health issue: One physician’s story
December 12, 2018 - The Science of Healthy Aging
December 12, 2018 - Yes to yoghurt and cheese: New improved Mediterranean diet
December 12, 2018 - Researchers uncover a number of previously unknown insecticide resistance mechanisms
December 12, 2018 - Regulating the immune system’s ‘regulator’
December 12, 2018 - In breaking bad news, the comfort of silence
December 12, 2018 - Study finds upward link between alcohol consumption and physical activity in college students
December 12, 2018 - FDA issues warning letter to Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical involved in valsartan recall
December 12, 2018 - Weight history at ages 20 and 40 could help predict patients’ future risk of heart failure
December 12, 2018 - Presence of antiphospholipid antibodies tied to first-time MI
December 12, 2018 - DNA analysis finds that stethoscopes are teaming with bacteria
December 12, 2018 - New study could help inform research on preventing falls
December 12, 2018 - Women and men with heart attack symptoms receive different care from EMS
December 12, 2018 - Disrupted biological clock can contribute to onset of diseases, USC study shows
December 12, 2018 - New publications generate controversy over the value of reducing salt consumption in populations
December 12, 2018 - New data from TAILORx trial confirms lack of chemo benefit regardless of race or ethnicity
December 12, 2018 - Specific class of biomarkers can accurately indicate the severity of cancer
December 12, 2018 - Meds Taken Do Not Vary With ADL Impairment in Heart Failure
December 12, 2018 - Long-term study shows that HIV-2 is deadlier than previously thought
December 12, 2018 - People living near oil and gas wells show early signs of cardiovascular disease
December 12, 2018 - IONTAS founder and pioneer in phage display technology attends Nobel Prize Award Ceremony
December 12, 2018 - People who eat red meat have high levels of chemical associated with heart disease, study finds
December 12, 2018 - New method uses water molecules to unlock neurons’ secrets
December 12, 2018 - Genetics study offers hope for new acne treatment
December 12, 2018 - New computer model predicts prostate cancer progression
December 12, 2018 - Nobel Laureates lecture about immune checkpoint therapy for cancer treatment
December 12, 2018 - More Illnesses From Tainted Romaine Lettuce Reported
December 12, 2018 - Aspirin could reduce HIV infections in women
December 12, 2018 - The EORTC Brain Tumor Group and Protagen AG collaborate to study immuno-competence of long-term glioblastoma survivors
December 12, 2018 - Insights into magnetotactic bacteria could guide development of biological nanorobots
December 12, 2018 - Sacrificial immune cells alert body to infection
December 12, 2018 - Low-salt diet may be more beneficial for females than males
December 12, 2018 - Major soil organic matter compound battles chronic wasting disease
December 12, 2018 - Findings may open up new ways to treat dwarfism and other ER-stress-related conditions
December 12, 2018 - New computational model provides clearer picture of shape-changing cells’ structure and mechanics
Researchers directly connect activities of genes with instinctive behavior in male cichlids

Researchers directly connect activities of genes with instinctive behavior in male cichlids

image_pdfDownload PDFimage_print

Call it instinct, but something compels some animals to behave in certain ways, perhaps programs in their genes. Researchers have directly connected activities of genes with instinctive behavior in little male fish that make patterns in the sand to attract their mates.

Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Stanford University who led the new study hope in the future to see if some behaviors are indeed genetic programs. If they are clicking off via gene regulation to fire neuronal patterns thus creating behavior.

“We’re not there yet, but we’re beginning to get a handle on gene regulation patterns that drive the neuronal patterns,” said Todd Streelman, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences and also its chair. “We were able to see that there’s a clear connection between gene expression and behavior.”

Better understanding autism

The research also may contribute someday to a better understanding of autism because the genes behind the fish behavior have human cousins that are implicated in autism spectrum disorder. And some typical autism behaviors like “stacking,” in which a child compulsively arranges objects into neat rows or towers, has parallels in how the fish, cichlids, repetitively pile up sand to make symmetrical formations.

But for now, the researchers are exploring male cichlids who are trying to attract a mate in Lake Malawi in Africa. In their study, they found that the regulation of specific genes and the occurrence of repetitive behavior associated with them went together nearly hand-in-glove, a novel discovery.

They published their results in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute on Aging, and the National Institute of General Medicine, all part of the National Institutes of Health.

Additionally, little is known about how genes underlying behavior evolve over time, and the researchers found signs that their evolution may center around gene regulation in response to what’s going on in the animal’s environment. In the case of male cichlids, the gene regulation and the behavior are triggered when females ready to mate show up.

Dig my castle

Let’s start with the behavior then go to the gene activity.

Boy cichlids knock themselves out building stuff out of sand to impress girl fish ready to mate. Most cichlid species build a pit, or crater, which appears to be the evolutionarily older and better-established behavior, and other species build a castle, which is widely accepted as being the newer evolutionary development.

Both pits and castles are known as “bowers” and require the fish to swim in the same circle, scooping up sand in one place and spitting it out somewhere else.

The difference is that the pit builders scoop up the sand from inside of the circle they’re swimming in and deposit it outside. That leaves a hole in the middle of the bower with a raised rim surrounding it that makes it resemble a crater.

Castle builders scoop the sand from outside the circle and deposit it inside, which creates a raised structure in the middle of the bower so that it resembles a volcano.

Turning him on

“A switch goes on once the females become reproductively active. Suddenly, the males begin scooping and spitting thousands of times to build their structure,” said Zachary Johnson, a postdoctoral researcher in Streelman’s Lab. Johnson was a co-author on the new study; Streelman co-principal investigator.

Scooping and spitting are so incessant that two-inch fish shovel up two-foot-wide structures: pit bowers for some species, castle bowers for others. The difference serves in attracting the right mate.

“Various species make their pits and castles in a common area, so structures have to be very specific, so the right female species can see, ‘This is the guy that I want’ compared to the other guys from other species that build the other thing. And she then has to pick the specific guy she wants from her own species,” said Chinar Patil, a co-first author of the study and a graduate research assistant in Streelman’s lab.

Cross-breeding cichlids

To observe the genes connected to either of these building behaviors, researchers have cross-mated pit-building species with castle-building species to make hybrid cichlids that have both sets of genes. These hybrids have delivered a lucky surprise.

The hybrid fish performed both behaviors neatly in sequence: first the pit making, then the castle making, always in that order.

“That’s amazing,” Johnson said. “You might expect hybrid behavior to be jumbled, or take on some intermediate form. Instead, they perform one species-specific behavior and then transition to performing the other species-specific behavior.”

Bower genes power up

This is useful to research because the hybrids have one full copy of genes from the pit parent and one from the castle parent. The cleanly separated behaviors have allowed for matching each behavior with increased and decreased activation in either set of genes in the fish’s brains.

The Georgia Tech and Stanford researchers were able to clearly match pit gene activation with pit behavioral mode as well as castle gene activation with castle behavioral mode.

“A lot of genes in the pit copy got up-regulated while the fish was in pit-making mode and the castle copy got up-regulated during castle-making mode,” Patil said. The genes and the behavior got “turned on” and “tuned in” in tandem.

The difference in expression of either pit vs. castle genes was less of an absolute click-clack-on-off switch and more like inching one set of levers down on an audio mixer and tuning up the other set to a dominant level.

Gene-behavior evolution

Finding that was the study’s big achievement. That almost sounds like genes directly creating behavior, but that’s unconfirmed as of yet and possibly the topic of future study.

Then there was that insight about the genetic evolution connected to behavioral evolution:

Pit and castle species have very similar genomes. When the team sequenced the DNA of pit and castle species, evolutionary differences appeared to lie in regulatory genes and they were many of the same regulatory genes that turn on and tune in for specific bower building behavior that happens in the mating context.

Tagged with:

About author

Related Articles