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Study Uncovers Genetic Modulator of Aggression in Fruit Flies

A genetic component of aggression control in fruit flies is reported in Science Advances this week, helping to better understand an important mechanism of maintaining social structures. While aggression among animals is important to survival, so too is de-escalation when the costs of such behavior outweigh the benefits. Yet little is known about the processes that suppress combativeness. In the study, scientist from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies studied the behavior of normal fruit flies with that of ones in which various genes of interest had been knocked down. They found that the lack of the neuronal transcription regulator nervy — a Drosophila homolog of vertebrate myeloid translocation genes — increased aggressiveness in socially experienced flies as well as identified a subset of neurons that use nervy to control aggression. "Our findings will serve as an entry point for understanding the circuit and molecular mechanisms that mediate a behavioral transformation associated with social experience in the fly," the study's authors conclude. "Comparative studies across animal species will help identify evolutionarily conserved genetic and neuronal motifs that are necessary for adaptive behavioral changes according to different levels of social experiences."