The Evolution of Parenting

man in lab with plastic containers

Moore-Allen.jpgGenetics researchers share a new study that builds on 50 years of theorizing by behavioralists - how parenting changes parents:

The study, published this month in Nature Communications, finds that the transition from a non-parenting state to a parenting state reflects differences in neuropeptides generally associated with mating, feeding, aggression and increased social tolerance.

Neuropeptides are small proteins that allow neurons in the brain to communicate with each other; they also influence behavior.

The team's research-tested on an insect, the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides-provides a predictive framework for studying the genetics of parenting and social interactions.

The burying beetle is intimately involved in raising its children, including regurgitating food to its begging offspring.

"We tested the idea that we could predict the genetic pathways involved in parenting based on old predictions from ethologists in the 1960s and 1970s," said the study's lead author Allen Moore, Distinguished Research Professor and head of the department of genetics. "When [burying beetle] parents feed their babies, they are feeding others rather than themselves and so genes that influence food-seeking behavior are likely to be involved."

Powerful new work by Moore and colleagues. The fact that new traits evolve existing genetic pathways instead of creating new genes is a fundamental dynamic with far-reaching implications, particularly for the predictive framework built by this research. LIke so much of the best work, this evolution of parenting sounds intuitive once it has been examined and explained to us.

Image: Allen Moore