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Australia Science

Bees Reveal Nature-Nurture Secrets 84

NoFear writes "The nature-nurture debate is a 'giant step' closer to being resolved after scientists studying bees documented how environmental inputs can modify our genetic hardware. The researchers uncovered extensive molecular differences in the brains of worker bees and queen bees which develop along very different paths when put on different diets. The research was led by Professor Ryszard Maleszka of The Australian National University's College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, working with colleagues from the German Cancer Institute in Heidelberg, Germany and will be published next week in the online, open access journal PLoS Biology."
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Bees Reveal Nature-Nurture Secrets

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  • by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @03:15PM (#34156086)
    What is the cause of the behavior of a program, its code or input? Obviously both in virtually all cases. The code sets what inputs it can respond to, and the inputs determine which response occurs. Flexible programs have long-term state, allowing inputs to have an effect on response far into the future. Why is there even a debate as to whether it's the code or input that entirely decides behavior? The particular behavior depends on the program, of course. A program which merely echoes its input back, without any state, is less-flexible than one that receives a script, then interprets it.
  • by oldhack ( 1037484 ) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @03:21PM (#34156126)
    And throw in all the wild varieties of virus inputs that mucks and morphs the code...
  • what debate? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by catbutt ( 469582 ) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @03:48PM (#34156322)
    I often hear it referred to as "the nature/nurture debate," as if people are actually debating whether we are products of our genetics or our environment. There is no debate, we are products of both. I suppose there are lots of little debates about how much each affects some particular trait. But the implication here that there is a single, central debate that can somehow be "resolved" is absurd.
  • by brian_tanner ( 1022773 ) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @03:49PM (#34156336)
    I don't know about fashionable, but perhaps necessary if you want to do science. It seems natural to model the behavior of most things as a function of a) initial conditions b) input c) randomness/stochasticity. For fixed initial conditions and input, you can model the distribution of outcomes. Then you can model how that distribution changes as you change initial conditions and inputs. Eventually you can look at behaviour and hypothesize about its causes, perhaps making changes to the initial conditions or inputs in the future to try to achieve better outcomes. OR, sometimes even better, realize that the causes of the outcome are not distinguishable from the randomness and therefore cannot reliably be changed. Maybe there is a small probability that people just turn out to be serial killers. Tough, deal with it.

    That all seems pretty scientific to me: not computer scientific, just scientific.

    I don't see an obvious alternative approach, for people that want to model/understand the behaviour of the organism. Not a scientific one, anyway. I mean we could just say it's too complicated and we can never understand/model it, which may be true. But that would just mean we don't have a tight enough model of either a) the initial conditions b) the inputs or c) the randomness. And perhaps we never can create models that are good enough to be useful. That's a question worth answering, and one that science can address.
  • by catbutt ( 469582 ) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @03:50PM (#34156348)
    It is a simple analogy, and makes plenty of sense. It isn't a matter of being "fashionable", people have tried to understand biology by analogy to man-made machines for centuries, and it is very useful.
  • by Simon80 ( 874052 ) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @03:59PM (#34156410)
    Comparing us to computers is not as flawed and not as misleading, because DNA is in fact data, and does encode behaviour, in the same way that a stream of bits can encode data or actions. The difference is that DNA is base-four and is interpreted through molecular machinery in ways that are far more complicated than any human-designed instruction set or data format. The analogy holds, otherwise. This isn't the same as blindly comparing organisms to other human-made stuff, because computers are programmable, and the other stuff is not.
  • by tijnbraun ( 226978 ) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @04:00PM (#34156422)

    To quote Matt Ridley:

    The discovery of how genes actually influence human behaviour, and how human behaviour influences genes, is about to recast the debate entirely. No longer is it nature versus nurture, but nature via nurture. Genes are designed to take their cues from nurture

    Goodbye, nature vs nurture []

    Replace human for bee or for organism and I think the quote still stands. It is not that the behaviour of an organism is for the most part determined by it genes, or either that is is determined by it nurture.

    Nurture will give direction, Nature will limit the abilities.

    How much you'll train a dog, it will never be able to play chess. How much you'll train a toddler, it will never be able to have capabilities to follow a scent trail like a bloodhound.

  • by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @04:45PM (#34156696)

    Organisms are not programs. DNA is not data. Biology is not a branch of computer science.

    In bygone times, people would compare animals and indeed human beings to clocks or steam engines. Comparing them to computers is just a flawed and just as misleading. However, it is more fashionable, so I doubt people will stop doing it anytime soon.

    I disagree. Biological systems, mechanical systems, electronic systems, etc. all have something in common: potential energy is used to produce output. Energy -> system -> output. Each series of systems certainly have different complexity levels, but making such comparisons is entirely valid.

  • by Eil ( 82413 ) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @05:58PM (#34157076) Homepage Journal

    Organisms are not programs. DNA is not data. Biology is not a branch of computer science.

    Biology is distinct from computer science in terms of how we presently study them, yes. But they are both based on the same fundamental truths of the universe we exist in. (Some of which we do not know or fully understand yet.) Discovering these truths allows us to model biological systems and computer systems in much the same way.

    DNA sequences are most certainly data. They describe how an organism builds itself, and to a certain extent, behaves. I'm surprised anyone believes that is open for debate.

    In bygone times, people would compare animals and indeed human beings to clocks or steam engines. Comparing them to computers is just a flawed and just as misleading. However, it is more fashionable, so I doubt people will stop doing it anytime soon.

    Nobody seriously attempts to assert that an organism is comparable in complexity to a man-made machine of our times. But there are cases where an analogy is apt for the purposes of explanation. That there are differences in the complexity or specific mechanisms is usually implied if not explicitly stated. A biology teacher might describe how the human eye works in terms of a camera to a group of photography students, for example.

  • Re:Bees (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @06:42PM (#34157368) Journal

    It sometimes seems that scientists (esp. in the life-sciences) forget that it can be a combinations of the above together with the special magic ingredient called "Luck" (or bad luck).

    Don't mistake the simplifications of journalists for a lack of understanding on the part of scientists. *Everyone* working on cancer knows that it is a multifactorial disease process.

  • Re:Bees (Score:2, Insightful)

    by metrix007 ( 200091 ) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @07:47PM (#34157686)

    The sound of one hand clapping sounds similar to two hands clapping, but less loud due to less force. A coin with one side would be a mobius strip as currency.

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller