Aggression Gene Amped Up In Humans And Chimps

A gene regulating the fight-or-flight response is more active in humans and chimpanzees than more peaceful primates, researchers say.

AsianScientist (Apr. 25, 2018) – Researchers have found that a gene linked to aggression is more active in humans and chimpanzees compared to other primates. These findings, published in PLOS Genetics, could explain the evolutionary roots of warfare.

The ADRA2C gene is known to regulate the fight-or-flight response in mice and changes in the gene that occurred during chicken domestication are thought to have resulted in less aggressive birds. A team of researchers led by Associate Professor Choi Jung Kyoon of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) hypothesized that ADRA2C might be involved in increased aggressive behaviors seen in humans and chimpanzees, which are the only primates known to engage in warfare.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers looked for changes in the regulatory regions of ADRA2C. Analyzing genomes, transcriptomes and epigenomes from humans, chimpanzees and other primates, they discovered that humans and chimpanzees acquired genetic and accompanying epigenetic changes that decrease ADRA2C expression, thus increasing signaling for the fight-or-flight response.

These changes are missing in macaques and not universal in bonobos, suggesting that the genetic variations spread among primates recently, potentially in response to threats of war. Choi and his colleagues also used CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to demonstrate that reverting to the genetic states of macaques and bonobos can restore ADRA2C expression.

The signatures of adaptations associated with reduced ADRA2C gene expression in chimpanzees and humans, which are missing from their more peaceful primate relatives, suggest that inter-group aggression may have shaped their evolution and could explain the evolutionary roots of human warfare, the researchers conclude.

The article can be found at: Lee et al. (2018) Selection on the Regulation of Sympathetic Nervous Activity in Humans and Chimpanzees.


Source: PLOS; Photo: Shutterstock.
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