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Integration of gene regulatory networks in understanding animal behavior

by Alisa King, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

For years, scientists have attributed animal behavior to the coordinated activities of neuronal cells and its circuits of neurons, known as the neuronal network (NN). However, researchers are pushing the boundaries in understanding animal behavior through the integration of gene regulation.

Fueled by a long-time collaboration with Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) Director and entomology professor Gene Robinson at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, incoming IGB Director of Computational Genomics and computer science professor Saurabh Sinha helped organize a workshop on "Cis-Regulatory Evolution in Development and Behavior" in 2018 to push a new line of thinking.

"One of the remarkable findings from a study led by Gene and his collaborators was that more eusocial insects seemed to have something different about their regulatory genome," said Sinha. "It seemed that there was some sort of evolutionary signature of complex social behavior that we hadn't really expected and was one of those findings that really made you re-think the implications."

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