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"Mean Genes" -- The Discovery Files

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Aggression-causing genes appeared early in animal evolution and have maintained their roles for millions of years and across many species, according to researchers from Iowa State University, Penn State and Grand Valley State University.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Mean genes.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: wasp sounds) "Angry as a wasp," you can't blame it for anger management issues--the mean is in its genes. Researchers from Iowa State University, Penn State and Grand Valley State University looked at aggressive behavior in wasps, bees, fruit flies and mice to see if they share any genes consistently associated with aggression. And they found some! It's one of the first investigations using datasets of thousands of genes, to see if there are shared genes relating to similar forms of behavior in a wide range of animals.

The team investigated the expression of aggression genes in paper wasps, and found that these genes control the establishment of an individual's dominance over the group. (Sound effect: single honey bee sound) In honey bees, aggression genes control altruistic and defensive behavior--like giving up one's life by stinging a predator (Sound effect: cheering crowd) the ultimate "take one for the team." In more solitary species such as fruit flies and mice, the same genes control fighting for territory among males, Same aggression-causing genes in different species, used in different ways.

The team says this may mean animals like bees and mice could provide insights into the biological basis of aggression in all animals--including humans.

(Sound effect: thunder bolt) A little: "Mad" science.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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