Researchers from the University of Oregon have discovered a new ‘social gene’ in Zebrafish called EGR1, however, the fish have a mutation in this particular gene, which has become of particular interest to researchers. This discovery could help scientists to better understand how the gene affects social behaviours and reveal more insights into conditions with strong social components.
In humans, mutations of the EGR1 gene have been linked to mental health conditions such as depression and schizophrenia, as well as autism. Now, being able to study the gene mutation in the Zebrafish will give scientists a deeper and wider insight in to how the gene effects social behaviours, as they will be able to identify differences and common points shared between the two mutations.
Like humans, Zebrafish are also very social creatures, often swimming close by one another when in the same vicinity. However, in the study, which was conducted by the Oregon University, their findings revealed that the Zebrafish with the mutated version of the EGR1 gene were less ‘sociable’ than their counterparts (the fish without the mutation).
The fish without the mutated EGR1 gene tended to swim closer towards other fish when approached, in contrast to those with the mutated gene, which showed less interest. Those with the mutated gene also didn’t position themselves in the way the ‘normal’ fish did, showing how the gene directly effected their behaviours.
In addition, the researchers also found different reactions to moving dots between the two fish. Zebrafish with normal EGR1 responded socially to those dots as if they were another fish, whereas the fish with the mutated gene didn’t.
Human brains layer more complexity on top of a basic ground plan that’s shared across the brains of many species, Judith Eisen says, who is a professor of biology.
“You can look at these brain regions in other animals where the cortex is not as complex as in humans and learn a great deal.” she says.