Most behavioral traits have complex bases and are the result of interactions between multiple genes and/or environments. Therefore, advancing our knowledge of human behavior will require an understanding of the genetic, epigenetic, and environmental bases of traits. Traditionally, it has been difficult to study the interplay between genes and environment in humans and laboratory animal models, because in the former, we often do not know """"""""environment"""""""", while in the latter, there is little, if any, environmental variance. In addition, if we are to truly understand human behavior, it is necessary to tease out the various evolutionary forces that have contributed to its development and persistence. Given these desires, a new animal model emerges as a standard for behavioral genomics - the white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) exhibits a stable genetic polymorphism that is associated with variation in morphology, physiology, and behavior. We have amassed 22+ years of detailed data on this species making it possible to identify the genetic, epigenetic, and environmental bases of behavior. Our long-term objectives are to establish the white-throated sparrow as a valid model for behavioral genomics, to determine the relative influence of genetics, epigenetics, and environment on complex behavioral phenotypes, and to further our understanding of the genetic bases and diversity of human behavior. Our central hypothesis is that suites of behavioral genes are inherited as co-adapted gene complexes and that the """"""""success"""""""" of the resulting phenotypes is highly dependent on the degree of restructuring of orchestrated gene cascades and environmental effects. The rationale for this study is that by identifying the genetic basis of behavior, we will more fully understand the generation and maintenance of behavioral diversity. To accomplish our goals, we will use a series of genomic approaches, combined with behavioral assays, to identify genes that influence aggressive, social, sexual, and parental behavior. We have narrowed the scope of our original proposal to fit within a 2-year time frame by focusing our efforts on a few key genes (e.g. POMC, ESR1) and by reducing the extent of our field and captive studies. The research is timely in that it builds upon a strong foundation of genomics studies in birds, yet it is also innovative, in that it focuses on a species where the linkage between phenotype and genotype is absolute. Findings gathered from our research on this new higher vertebrate model will contribute to the mission of the NIH by providing fundamental and comparative knowledge about the nature of human behavior. In addition, our results will provide insight into other genetic traits (e.g. disease) associated with gene rearrangement.

Public Health Relevance

Study of this unique system will advance human health and welfare by contributing to our knowledge of the genetic, epigenetic, and environmental bases of complex behavior (aggression, promiscuity, sociality, parental roles), physiology (hormones, immune function, reproduction), and disease. In addition, the proposed research will contribute to our understanding of how chromosomal mutations and selection interact to change phenotypic expression.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
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Biobehavioral Regulation, Learning and Ethology Study Section (BRLE)
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Tompkins, Laurie
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Indiana State University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Terre Haute
United States
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Grunst, Melissa L; Grunst, Andrea S; Formica, Vince A et al. (2018) Multiple signaling functions of song in a polymorphic species with alternative reproductive strategies. Ecol Evol 8:1369-1383
Tuttle, Elaina M; Bergland, Alan O; Korody, Marisa L et al. (2016) Divergence and Functional Degradation of a Sex Chromosome-like Supergene. Curr Biol 26:344-50
Tuttle, Elaina M; Sebastian, Peter J; Posto, Amanda L et al. (2014) Variation in preen oil composition pertaining to season, sex, and genotype in the polymorphic white-throated sparrow. J Chem Ecol 40:1025-38