Genes And Behavior
By Georgianna Donadio, PhD – During the summer, my apple trees, with their sweet droppings all about the orchard, support an enormous population of fruit flies. Apart from being occasionally annoying and making a bit of noise, these insects would not be a topic to capture one’s attention. At least, I never thought so, until I read a fascinating study about fruit flies that indicated that our gender and sexual behavior may be largely connected to our genes.
Geneticist Barry Dickson and graduate student Ebru Demir of the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, Austria, made a small change to a genetically altered gene that they engineered into female fruit flies. This very specific gene alteration that was integrated into the female flies was engineered to always produce male fruit fly protein.
The genetically altered female fruit flies behaved like amorous male flies. They pursued other female fruit flies and wooed them with an elaborate courtship display. This gene altering and its subsequent behavioral results were reported in the scientific journal Cell.
The engineered females rejected males that tried to mate with them and began to imitate the multistep male courting dance. This is a truly fascinating activity but a bit too racy to describe in this article. (I am not kidding!) The two scientists hypothesize that the altered genes set into motion a cascade of genetic changes to re-program the female fruit flies’ sexual behavior.
In this same vein, one of the most spellbinding books I have ever read that covers behavior and genetics is Melvin Konner’s brilliant and stunning text The Tangled Wing, which is about humans — not fruit flies. If you are fascinated by how our amazing hormones and genetics create and affect our thoughts, behaviors and even sexual preferences, this book is a must-read.
This amazing book also allows you to better understand the wide range of “masculine” and “feminine” behavior that exists in men and women. When we explore the science of how our brains function through our biochemistry and how this biochemistry is in control of the actions and behaviors, it helps us to be more understanding and compassionate about ourselves and others.
Renowned behaviorist B.F. Skinner stated many decades ago that our hormones were the most powerful influence over how we live our lives. More recently, Candyce Pert, Ph.D., author of Molecules of Emotions, has done research that demonstrates exactly how the brain’s neuropeptides achieve our behavior outcomes.
For those interested in the subject of genes and behavior and brain function, Konner’s and Pert’s work is highly recommended. For a free download of the bestselling, award-winning behavior change book Changing Behavior, visit www.changingbehavior.org.
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