In both animals and humans, normal individuals can behave differently in the same environment. Natural variation in behavior is partly due to genetic differences between individuals, and partly due to experience. Mapping studies have demonstrated that the genetic component of natural behavioral variation is complex, with many genes that each contribute a small amount to the observed behavior. This complexity has made it difficult to identify the causative genes for individual differences. Here we use the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans to dissect a social behavioral trait, the propensity to aggregate with other animals in the presence of food. We find that the behavioral differences between two wild-type worm strains result from at least five genetic differences between the strains, two of which were previously known. One of the three new loci affects a receptor for the neurotransmitter GABA, which regulates excitability in the brain. In the context of previous work, we suggest that a significant number of genes that generate behavioral variation encode neurotransmitter receptors. This analysis in a model animal may help guide discoveries of the genetic variants that affect common human behavioral traits by suggesting classes of genes to examine closely.
*Please note Andres will be presenting unpublished work done as a graduate student in Cori Bargmann's lab at Rockefeller University