Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bogosity - Thy Name is Sociobiology

BrooklynDodger apologizes for being so late bringing this post to the blog, probably too late to get the orginal Times article without paying. As time has passed, the Dodger wonders the point of this blog, but there is too much work here to just blow it away.

This article on animal behavior had multiple echoes. It parallels the now routine article about what part of the brain lights up on MRI when the subject sees naked people, and whether straights and gays light up the same. [Whatever straights and gays are.]

The first question with this stuff is whether the outcome observations are any good. BrooklynDodger wonders whether vole behavior, the dances of the fruit flies, and the MRI's are all that easy to tell one from the other. Especially the vole behavior. Even in cages. What was their N? What was their inter-rater variability?

The second question is biological plausibility. Genes make proteins [actually, the gene makes an RNA and the RNA makes the proteins]; maybe they also make RNA's with regulatory functions and no proteins. The behavioral phenotype is obviously multi-genic; the phenotype likely can be turned off by a single allele - blind voles might be poor mates. [Maybe not the best example, if they are noctornal and do it by smell, but maybe it's a smell gene where the male vole can't tell females in the dark.]

A Gene for Romance? So It Seems (Ask the Vole)

Published: July 19, 2005
Biologists have been making considerable progress in identifying members of a special class of genes - those that shape an animal's behavior toward others of its species. These social behavior genes promise to yield deep insights into how brains are constructed for certain complex tasks.

Some 30 such genes have come to light so far, mostly in laboratory animals like roundworms, flies, mice and voles. Researchers often expect results from these creatures to apply fairly directly to people when the genes cause diseases like cancer. They are much more hesitant to extrapolate in the case of behavioral genes. Still, understanding the genetic basis of social behavior in animals is expected to cast some light on human behavior.

Last month researchers reported on the role of such genes in the sexual behavior of both voles and fruit flies. One gene was long known to promote faithful pair bonding and good parental behavior in the male prairie vole. Researchers discovered how the gene is naturally modulated in a population of voles so as to produce a spectrum of behaviors from monogamy to polygamy, each of which may be advantageous in different ecological circumstances.

The second gene, much studied by fruit fly biologists, is known to be involved in the male's elaborate suite of courtship behaviors. New research has established that a special feature of the gene, one that works differently in males and females, is all that is needed to induce the male's complex behavior.

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