How Do Genes Influence Behavior? – Instant Egghead #18

Geneticists are trying to figure out if certain genes can explain
differences in behaviour like thrill seeking,
aggression and nurturing. For every 100,000 people who enjoy
hiking in the mountains, for example, only one or two feel the need
to climb to the top of the mount Everest. How can we explain this variation in behaviour? How much does it have to do
with family background or life experience, or some people are just born
wanting to take on extreme challenges? Research over the past few years has shown that the genetics
behind complex behaviour is trickier than we first thought. Differences in behaviour
are not the result of one, two or even a hand full of genes. Consider the most famous of lab insects,
the lowly fruit fly, known to scientists as Drosophila melanogaster. These fruit flies naturally
fight over food like who gets access
to a tasty piece of rotten banana. Researchers now think, the activity
of 4,000 of the fruit flies 15,000 genes determine how tough the insects
will get with each other. So, if the genetics of behaviour
is that complicated in a fruit fly, imagine how complicated
it would be for a human.. After all, the brain of a fruit fly
contains around a 100,000 neurons while the brain of a human
contains 100 billion neurones or a million times
as many neurones as a fruit fly. The bottom line? Any study claiming
a single gene can predict whether you are gay, prone to violence, a liberal or a conservative is probably not going
to pay it out in the end nor are we likely to ever find a gene
for extreme mountain climbing. For Scientific Americans,
Instant Egghead, I am Christine Gorman.


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