Epub 2022 Jul 18. Behavioral genetics and genomics: Mendel's peas, mice, and bees

Published Date

The question of the heritability of behavior has been of long fascination to scientists and the broader public. It is now widely accepted that most behavioral variation has a genetic component, although the degree of genetic influence differs widely across behaviors. Starting with Mendel's remarkable discovery of "inheritance factors," it has become increasingly clear that specific genetic variants that influence behavior can be identified. This goal is not without its challenges: Unlike pea morphology, most natural behavioral variation has a complex genetic architecture. However, we can now apply powerful genome-wide approaches to connect variation in DNA to variation in behavior as well as analyses of behaviorally related variation in brain gene expression, which together have provided insights into both the genetic mechanisms underlying behavior and the dynamic relationship between genes and behavior, respectively, in a wide range of species and for a diversity of behaviors. Here, we focus on two systems to illustrate both of these approaches: the genetic basis of burrowing in deer mice and transcriptomic analyses of division of labor in honey bees. Finally, we discuss the troubled relationship between the field of behavioral genetics and eugenics, which reminds us that we must be cautious about how we discuss and contextualize the connections between genes and behavior, especially in humans.


Hopi E Hoekstra, Gene E Robinson