Flockmate or loner? Identifying the genes behind sociality in chickens

May 03, 2018

Five genes that affect sociality-related behaviour in chickens have been identified by researchers at Linköping University in Sweden. Several of the genes have been previously linked to nervous system function or behaviour. The new study, which is published in Genetics, is the first that assigns these genes a role in sociality.

Sociality and social behaviour covers a wide range of behaviours. Dogs seeking human contact and honeybees using complex waggle dances to exchange information on where to find good food sources are two examples from the animal world. But what actually governs social behaviour?

"By identifying the genes responsible for the variation in such sociality we can understand how sociality is formed and how social behaviour is controlled at a genetic level. Why some people or animals are more gregarious by nature and others more independent is just one such example," says Dominic Wright, senior lecturer at the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology (IFM), who has led the study.

To assess this, the researchers used a cross between wild and domestic chickens. The AVIAN research group at Linköping University is one of the few groups in the world with a breeding population of Red Junglefowl, the wild ancestor of the domestic fowl. For 8,000 years, humans have selected the individuals that have desirable traits and bred them, a process known as domestication. As a result, today's domestic fowl and the original wild fowl differ strongly in their social behaviour. For example, Red Junglefowl typically take longer to approach other birds, but spend more time with them when they do. By crossing the domestic and the wild fowl for several generations, the researchers obtained chickens that exhibited a large range of social behaviour.

The researchers measured sociality by placing chickens in a novel environment (a large box) and observing how likely they were to seek contact with other chickens. A more social chicken approaches the others more rapidly and spends less time exploring the new surroundings. The same behaviour is also displayed by more anxious chickens. The investigators also measured gene expression in one of several regions in the brain involved in the regulation of social behaviour, the hypothalamus. By correlating behaviour, gene expression and genetic variants, the researchers identified five genes that seem to control aspects of this behaviour.

"Although these genes had been implicated with behaviour or nervous system function previously, this is the first time they have been shown to control sociality also. We also found that several of the genes affect both sociality and anxiety in the chickens," says Dominic Wright.
-end-
The research was supported by grants from the Carl Trygger Stiftelse, the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (FORMAS) and the European Research Council.

The article: "Genetics and genomics of social behavior in a chicken model", M. Johnsson, R. Henriksen, J. Fogelholm, A. Höglund, P. Jensen and D. Wright, (2018) Genetics, published online 1 May 2018, doi: 10.1534/genetics.118.300810

For more information, please contact: Dominic Wright, senior lecturer, dominic.wright@liu.se, +46 13-28 12 42

Linköping University

Related Genetics Articles from Brightsurf:

Human genetics: A look in the mirror
Genome Biology and Evolution's latest virtual issue highlights recent research published in the journal within the field of human genetics.

The genetics of blood: A global perspective
To better understand the properties of blood cells, an international team led by UdeM's Guillaume Lettre has been examining variations in the DNA of 746,667 people worldwide.

Turning to genetics to treat little hearts
Researchers makes a breakthrough in understanding the mechanisms of a common congenital heart disease.

New drugs more likely to be approved if backed up by genetics
A new drug candidate is more likely to be approved for use if it targets a gene known to be linked to the disease; a finding that can help pharmaceutical companies to focus their drug development efforts.

Mapping millet genetics
New DNA sequences will aid in the development of improved millet varieties

Genetics to feed the world
A study, published in Nature Genetics, demonstrated the effectiveness of the technology known as genomic selection in a wheat improvement program.

The genetics of cancer
A research team has identified a new circular RNA (ribonucleic acid) that increases tumor activity in soft tissue and connective tissue tumors.

New results on fungal genetics
An international team of researchers has found unusual genetic features in fungi of the order Trichosporonales.

Mouse genetics influences the microbiome more than environment
Genetics has a greater impact on the microbiome than maternal birth environment, at least in mice, according to a study published this week in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

New insights into genetics of fly longevity
Alexey Moskalev, Ph.D., Head of the Laboratory of Molecular Radiobiology and Gerontology Institute of Biology, and co-authors from the Institute of biology of Komi Science Center of RAS, Engelgard's Institute of molecular biology, involved in the study of the aging mechanisms and longevity of model animals announce the publication of a scientific article titled: 'The Neuronal Overexpression of Gclc in Drosophila melanogaster Induces Life Extension With Longevity-Associated Transcriptomic Changes in the Thorax' in Frontiers in Genetics - a leading open science platform.

Read More: Genetics News and Genetics Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.