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First Known 'Social Chromosome' Found 42

Posted by samzenpus
from the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other dept.
sciencehabit writes "To humans, all fire ants may look alike. But the tiny, red, stinging bugs known as Solenopsis invicta have two types of social organization, and these factions are as recognizable to the ants as rival football teams are to us. Researchers once thought that the groups' distinct physiological and behavioral profiles stemmed from a variant in a single gene. Now, a new study (abstract) provides the first evidence that the gene in question is bound up in a bundle of some 600 other genes, versions of which are all inherited together. This 'supergene' takes up a large chunk of what may be the first known social chromosome, analogous to the chromosomes that determine sex in humans."
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First Known 'Social Chromosome' Found

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  • Inherited, you say?

    This might go a long way to explaining why certain families are very invested in sports (especially supporting national sports teams), where other families don't really care about it. I think we all know that one family where everyone loves football, even though they all have different teams ... or, if you're part of that family, then it might go a long way to explaining why no one outside your family is nearly passionate enough about football.
    • Inherited, you say? This might go a long way to explaining why certain families are very invested in sports (especially supporting national sports teams), where other families don't really care about it. I think we all know that one family where everyone loves football, even though they all have different teams ... or, if you're part of that family, then it might go a long way to explaining why no one outside your family is nearly passionate enough about football.

      Nature versus nurture. This is an example of nurture.

      • Perhaps, but this is a good example of what it means to be inherited as opposed to genetic. The work in the ever-growing field of Epigenetics [wikipedia.org] has taught us that there are many, many influential and inherited things, be they methylation patterns, RNA transcripts or other small molecules, or even persistent environmental pollutants (PCBs, PBDEs, etc.), that affect us without being genetic. Expression and regulation of different genes is a huge factor in our development, and not always controlled by genetic

  • by DaneM (810927) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @01:08AM (#42613531)

    If, indeed, other creatures--like humans--inherit personality traits (such as sociability or the lack thereof) genetically--in addition to learning skills in these matters--then this leads to a potentially very fairly impactful syllogism:

    1. The sociability (or lack thereof) of a human being is largely determined by genetics.
    2. The social structure of a society is largely determined by the values and traits of its comprising members.
    3. Those who are highly-sociable tend to thrive in societies where social interaction is closely related to power structure.
    4. Highly-sociable individuals who live in societies where the power structure is traditionally more monolithic (such a theocracy, monarchy, dictatorship, fanatical regime, harsh regime, etc.) tend to become marginalized because they're seen as a threat to the traditional power structure (by way of gathering followers, potentially questioning authority, etc.).
    5. Sexual selection (that is, natural selection by way of how mates are chosen) is highly sensitive to how a society sees a given individual's value and long-term viability (that is, perceived "potential").
    6. Sexual selection leads to genetic traits being favored or not favored, such that desirable ones (including those chosen by societal "momentum," as above) are emphasized, and undesirable ones are made less common.
    7. Because of #6, the genes for high sociability will be largely "bred out" of societies wherein such a trait is not valued.
    8. Populations tend to reject and marginalize those who are of a minority genetic makeup (i.e. foreigners, "ethnics," etc.)

    Conclusion: Sexual selection among humans--largely driven by societal determinations--will cause, and has caused certain parts of the world to become genetically predisposed AGAINST all societal structures and customs that require a high degree of sociability and a distributed power structure. This included democratic government (in its various forms), free religion (i.e. not governed by monolithic or oligarchic authority), freedom to demonstrate, freedom of speech, and so forth. This hereby calls into question whether it's valid to impress or force such structures and customs upon a given population unless/until these populations see themselves as being ready for, and desirous of these things.

    Notably, what a society desires changes dramatically over time. "Public consciousness" shifts, and thereby changes what is seen as "desirable" in mates (as well as what is a survivable/unsurvivable genetic trait). Therefore, it's not only possible but likely that societies which are not ready for such social structures/customs now will be in the future--and likewise, that those which were unready for them only a few years ago are ready for them now. I believe we're seeing this in what has been dubbed, the "Arab Spring." Likewise, much of the world seems to be "awakening" from the state of accepting monolithic authority structures, and bucking long-standing traditions. Could it be that for the last generation or two (or several), those who were willing to question authority and customs became more desirable as mates than they were previously? The "hippy"/"baby boomer" generation of the United States certainly seems to support this theory. (Sadly, our cultural apathy is yet extremely powerful.)

    I don't know if my theories are correct, but I think the syllogism is good (in the logical sense). If the solution truly follows from the premises, perhaps it's worth asking whether those premises are, indeed, as correct as I suspect they are.

    • Crap, I meant "ON Nations" in the title. Oh, well.

    • You present an interesting model, but whether it works as you expect or not depends on the parameters.

      For instance, you say "Sexual selection (that is, natural selection by way of how mates are chosen) is highly sensitive...". Exactly how much is it sensitive? Let's say two people of opposite genders meet by chance, how is the probability that they will mate affected by whatever parameter you are studying?

      No one knows exactly the answer to these questions, because society is so complex. It's very hard to is

    • by rts008 (812749)

      You bring up some interesting points, IMHO.
      Some of what you espoused had me wondering how this 'social gene'( or cluster), may apply to racial/ethnic prejudices and bias that we seem to be unable to overcome as a species.
      Although, this seems to occur with other species than humans, at least at first glance. The "Beware of those that are not 'us', they may be dangerous!" behavior seems universal among all mammals.

      My understanding is that this behavior is an evolutionary trait to help survival of the species

      • by DaneM (810927)

        Mangu, I agree that we don't have all the parameters to truly ascertain the truth of the matters I mentioned. I wish we did! but sadly, I think the heart of problems with finding data on such things is that we're all too biased--not necessarily prejudiced; simply opinionated, at least--to search out the data with scientific detachment (no matter how well we might presume we're doing). A second part of the problem--as you suggest--is that we truly don't know what to look for. Sure, we all have SOME of the pi

  • by Anonymous Coward

    and these factions are as recognizable to the ants as rival football teams are to us.

    So, not at all?

  • by Mister Liberty (769145) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @05:16AM (#42614619)

    After all it's played with a puck too, isn't it?

  • Insects have diverged from the reptilian/mammalian lines long time ago and have pursued a completely different strategy. In some sense you could consider an entire ant colony as a single animal. The queen and the drones are the equivalents of the gonads (ovaries and testes). The various castes of worker bees doing various functions are actually organs of the animal. Some bees flap wings to circulate air through the hive, kind of lungs/sweat glands. Soldier caste of army ants are like antlers or talons. All
  • That's funny...to me, all football teams look alike.

The study of non-linear physics is like the study of non-elephant biology.

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