Study Discovers DNA That Tells Mice How to Construct Their Homes
The architectural feats of animals — from beaver dams to birds’ nests — not only make for great nature television, but, since the plans for such constructions seem largely inherited, they also offer an opportunity for scientists to tackle the profoundly difficult question of how genes control complicated behavior in animals and humans.
A long-term study of the construction of burrows by deer mice has the beginnings of an answer. Hailed as innovative and exciting by other scientists, the report, in the current issue of Nature, identifies four regions of DNA that play a major role in telling a mouse how long a burrow to dig and whether to add an escape tunnel. The research could eventually lead to a better understanding of what kind of internal reward system motivates mice to dig, or tells them to stop. And although humans do not dig burrows, that, said the leader of the three-person research team, Hopi E. Hoekstra of Harvard, could “tell us something about behavioral variation in humans.”