Origins of Genes for Learning & Memory Traced Back 650 Million Years: Study

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Researchers have found that genes required for learning, memory, aggression and other complex behaviours originated around 650 million years ago, according to a study published in Nature Communications. The study was conducted by a team of scientists at the University of Leicester (United Kingdom) and the University of Fribourg (Switzerland). 

What did the researchers find?

The research led by Dr Roberto Feuda, Neurogenetic group in the Department of Genetics and Genome Biology of the University of Leicester and her colleagues in Switzerland, utilised computational methods in a bid to reconstruct the evolutionary history of these genes. 

“We’ve known for a long time that monoamines like serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline act as neuromodulators in the nervous system, playing a role in complex behaviour and functions like learning and memory, as well as processes such as sleep and feeding,” said Dr Feuda, in a statement. 

However, he went on to explain how scientists were uncertain about the origin of the genes involved in the production, detection, and degradation of these monoamines. Therefore, they used computational models to trace the evolutionary history of these genes and found reception originated in the bilaterian stem group.

The study also suggests that this new method of modulating neuronal circuits could have played a role in the Cambrian Explosion (also known as the Big Bang) which has given rise to the largest diversification of life for most major animal groups alive today.

Researchers also suggested that this new way provided flexibility for the neural circuits to facilitate the interaction with the environment could have played a role so-called 'Big Bang'. 

What next?

According to Dr Feuda, these findings have “profound implications” on the evolutionary origin of complex behaviours which are modulated by these monoamines like serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline that are observed in humans and other animals. 

The discovery may also help scientists better understand the Cambrian Explosion which witnessed a period of rapid diversification of life forms on Earth and was marked by the unparalleled emergence of organisms, between 541 million and approximately 530 million years ago. 

The research may also pave the way for finding the origins of more complex behaviours like addiction, aggression, and so on. “This discovery will open new important research avenues that will clarify the origin of complex behaviours and if the same neurons modulate reward, addiction, aggression, feeding, and sleep,” said Dr Feuda. 

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