Seeking social genes

In order understand the evolution of complex societies, researchers are sequencing the genomes of social insects. The most recent data, published this week in the Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, come from several sp…

Pheromones Create a 'Chemical Image' in the Brain

For the first time, researchers have eavesdropped on the brains of mice as they go about the normal behaviors of detecting the subtle chemical signals called pheromones from other animals. The researchers have discovered that the animals’ pheromone-processing machinery in the brain forms, in essence, a specific “pheromonal image” of another animal. Such an “image” of another animal’s sex, identity, social standing and female reproductive status governs a range of mating, fighting, maternal-infant bonding and other behaviors. The scientists said that the specificity they discovered in the neurons that process pheromonal signals is akin to the “face neurons” in the visual areas of primate brains that are specifically triggered by facial features of other animals.

Another job discovered for a master metabolic off-switch

Researchers have discovered that an important cellular “off-switch” that desensitizes receptors on the cell surface also regulates a second deactivation mechanism that had not been suspected before. Their finding that the off-switch, known as beta-arrestin, operates in two distinct ways may hint at a broader set of regulatory roles for the molecule.