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Genes for Learning, Aggression Traced Back 650 Million Years

Researchers from the University of Leicester have discovered that the genes required for learning, memory, aggression and other complex behaviours originated around 650 million years ago. The authors suggest that this new way to modulate neuronal circuits might have played a role in the Cambrian Explosion – known as the Big Bang.

Genes responsible for learning, memory, aggression, and other complex behaviors can be traced back approximately 650 million years, according to a team of scientists led by researchers from the University of Leicester. The findings, published in Nature Communications, shed light on the evolutionary origins of these crucial genes.

Dr. Roberto Feuda, from the Neurogenetic group in the Department of Genetics and Genome Biology at the University of Leicester, expressed the significance of the research. He stated, “We’ve known for a long time that monoamines like serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline play a role in complex behavior and functions such as learning, memory, sleep, and feeding. However, the origin of the genes associated with the production, detection, and degradation of these monoamines has been uncertain.”

“This finding has profound implications on the evolutionary origin of complex behaviors observed in humans and other animals, which are modulated by monoamines.”

Using computational methods, the team reconstructed the evolutionary history of these genes and found that most of the genes involved in monoamine production, modulation, and reception originated in the bilaterian stem group. Dr. Feuda emphasized the implications of this discovery, stating, “This finding has profound implications on the evolutionary origin of complex behaviors observed in humans and other animals, which are modulated by monoamines.”

The researchers suggest that this new mechanism for modulating neuronal circuits may have played a role in the Cambrian Explosion, a period of rapid diversification of life that led to the emergence of major animal groups alive today. By providing flexibility to neural circuits, this genetic development facilitated interactions with the environment.

Dr. Feuda further highlighted the implications of the study, stating, “This discovery will open up important avenues for research to better understand the origin of complex behaviors and investigate whether the same neurons also modulate reward, addiction, aggression, feeding, and sleep.”




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