Scientists find gene that makes some birds more curious than others

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Washington, Feb 10 (ANI): Scientists, in a new research, have found that some great tit populations are more curious than others because they have a gene related to individual variation in exploratory behaviour.

Birds with a certain variant of this "dopamine receptor D4 gene" (DRD4 gene) showed stronger novelty seeking and exploration behaviour than individuals with other variants.

This association was originally tested and found in a lab-raised group of birds.

Now, a large international group of researchers around Bart Kempenaers, director at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Germany, repeated the test in adult wild birds captured in the field.

Research groups from the Centre for Terrestrial Ecology in Heteren (NL), the Universities of Antwerp (Belgium) and Groningen (NL), and the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology in Oxford (UK) all measured exploratory behaviour of large numbers of great tits in a similar way.

They brought their data together to test the generality of the association between the different gene variants and exploration behaviour.

"To our knowledge, this is the most extensive study of gene variants underlying personality-related behavioural variation in a free-living animal to date, and the first to compare different wild populations", said Peter Korsten, first author and a former member of Kempenaers' department.

To their surprise, the researchers found the association between the gene and the behaviour present in one population, but not in three others.

"It was important to confirm the association between the DRD4 variants and exploratory behaviour in the original population", said Kempenaers, but he added, "We do not yet understand the differences between populations".

However, the results mirror the outcome of similar research into gene-personality associations in humans, which also varies between populations.

More than 30 studies confirmed that the DRD4 gene is associated with novelty seeking in humans, but large differences between populations were observed, and several studies did not find an effect.

"Perhaps further investigation of great tit populations could shed some light on the differences in outcome in the human populations", said Korsten. (ANI)

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