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Variation in Vole Gene Image 1
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Variation in Vole Gene (Image 1)

July 26, 2010
Random changes that alter the length of microsatellite DNA--5 to 5,000 repeated copies of identical short DNA sequences scattered throughout genomes--near the gene for the vasopressin receptor affect social behavior in male voles. A longer microsatellite region results in more bonding and care giving.

By studying voles, researchers have discovered that slight variations in a DNA region once deemed "junk" actually predict social behavior and parental care giving in males. The differences in the DNA code, which show up over only a few generations by mutation, directly affect how, when and where the protein receptor for the hormone vasopressin presents itself in the brain. Researchers say these studies are particularly important because they implicate key players and possible mechanisms underlying the evolution of species-specific social organization.