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article imageCan bacteria reduce aggressive instincts?

By Tim Sandle     Jul 3, 2015 in Science
A new study suggests that certain bacteria can alter the tendency for an animals to display aggressive behavior. This relates to studies conducted on scientists' favorite lab model: fruit flies.
According to a new study led by Jeremy C. Brownlie, of the School of Natural Sciences, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia, male fruit flies (genus Drosophila) often fight with each other. However, this fighting instinct can be controlled and reduced based on populations of a bacterial species called Wolbachia, one of the world's most common parasitic microbes.
For the study, scientists drew up a list of behavioral traits that represent aggression in flies. These were: time taken to initiate a contest, total number of fights engaged in, and the typical length of a fight.
Next, different sets of flies were examined and their antics captured with special video technology. One group of flies were deliberately infected with the bacteria and the other group was not infected (as a control).
It was found that flies with the bacteria took up to three times longer to initiate a first fight, and the number of fights was considerably reduced (up to 50 percent.) Nonetheless, once a fight started it tended to last for the same length of time. This was an important finding for it suggested that the lower level of aggression in the infected flies was not due the flies becoming ill.
The reason for the lower aggression is thought to be the levels of a neurotransmitter, called octopamine. This neurotransmitter is also involved with initiating the way a locust jumps.
Infected flies produced lower quantities of the chemical than uninfected flies. This indicates that the bacteria affected the gene function within the flies.
Further work will be undertaken to see what is happening in terms of genetic mutations in the flies. In the long term, the researchers are keen to see what affect the bacteria have, if any, on the behavior of mammals.
The research has been published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. The paper is titled “Wolbachia Influences the Production of Octopamine and Affects Drosophila Male Aggression.”
More about Bacteria, Fruit flies, Aggression, Instinct
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