Social environment plays a significant role in several of the most pressing issues humans face in a growing world. Social interaction can influence lifestyles that may lead to diseases, such as obesity, in closely connected individuals. People who are less connected are more at risk for depression and suicide. Conversely, happy emotions and cooperative behaviors spread quickly between individuals who are more closely connected. These connections are largely learned. While social environment clearly plays a critical role in human health, scientists have yet to determine the genetic or physiological mechanisms that underlie these learned patterns or their resulting disease outcomes. Honey bees have complex societies that are highly controllable for genetics and social environment, and can easily be evaluated for specific behaviors. Some honey bees will explore for new food, while others exploit a known food source, based on genetic predispositions to learn specific kinds of relationships. Furthermore, explorer bees have different neurotransmitters in their brains and their learning can be modulated pharmacologically. Based on these characteristics, honey bees can be used as a model society to explore the complex interactions of genetics, physiology, and social environment. With the use of advanced gene expression techniques, the first aim of this project will explore the regulation of a promising neurotransmitter receptor in the brain that is strongly implicated in learning behavior.
This aim will fully characterize how the receptor is being regulated in honey bees that are foraging and learning differently, then identify differences in where the receptor is located in the brain between these individuals. The causal relationship between regulation of the receptor and behavior will then be established using gene knockdown techniques.
Aim 2 will connect these results to social environment by modulating social interactions in individuals of known genetic background, then evaluating how behavior and gene expression of this receptor changes with social environment. This project includes the training undergraduate student in all aspects of research practices. Ultimately, the results of this postdoctoral research will provide insight into the important goals of the NIH by elucidating the relationship between social environment, underlying genetics of behavior, and shifts in behavior that lead to long term health effects of individuals and societies.

Public Health Relevance

Social environment plays a substantial role in several pressing human diseases, including obesity and depression. This research will provide critical insight into how social environment influences genetics, and how those genetics may change behavior based on that environment. Understanding these mechanisms will allow us to enhance the interactions that underlie the optimal health of both individuals and societies.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Hoodbhoy, Tanya
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Arizona State University-Tempe Campus
Other Basic Sciences
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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