The Genetic Basis of Parental Care
Hopi Hoekstra, Ph.D.
5:00 PM Thursday, March 8 (Reception to follow)
Austin Hall, Room 111
Parental care is essential for survival in mammals. In humans, it is well known that the extent and quality of parental care that children receive greatly influences their development, their educational and social achievement, and their disease risk as both children and adults. Yet, the mechanisms underlying variation in parental care remain largely unknown. In this talk, I will focus on two closely related species of wild mice that have dramatically different mating systems: one highly promiscuous the other strictly monogamous. We show that these two sister species differ greatly in parental behavior, especially paternal care, and that these differences are heritable. Using genetic crosses, we identify genomic regions that affect parental care, identify candidate genes, and functionally test their causal role in behavioral variation. Together, this work led to the discovery that variation in parental behavior has a different genetic basis in males and females and to finding that a highly-conserved neuropeptide—also present in humans—modulates parental behavior. Finally, this talk will demonstrate how an evolutionary approach in an emerging model system can yield novel insights into behaviors that are widespread in nature, of great importance to human societies, and that deeply affect human physical and psychological health.