Scientists identify evolutionary formula for monogamy

U.S. biologists have conducted a study showing that the evolution of a universal transcriptomic code underlies monogamous behavior in various species of vertebrates.

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In the animal world, social monogamy (where males and females live in pairs) provides stability, territorial defense and biparental care in the struggle to reproduce, nurture and protect offspring. These advantages may be why monogamy has evolved independently numerous times in various species of animals.

The independent evolutionary origins underlying monogamous mating have been shown to play a conserved role in social affiliation and parental care, as have several homologous brain regions and neuroendocrine pathways. Yet, little is understood about the evolutionary neuromolecular mechanisms that underlie this monogamous behavior.

Now, Rebecca Young (Department of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin) and colleagues have analysed the gene activity within the brains of reproductive males in monogamous and non-monogamous species pairs of mice, frogs, fish, voles and birds.

As reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), comparison of the animals’ neural transcriptomic profiles showed that certain shared profiles are associated with monogamy across vertebrates.

Young and team found that despite these animals having distinct brain structures and different evolutionary histories, they seem to have evolved monogamy by switching on and off the same groups of genes.

While evolutionary divergence time between species or groups of organisms with shared ancestors did not explain similarities in gene expression, features of the mating system did correlate with neural gene expression patterns and those patterns varied in a manner that was consistent across species when they transitioned to monogamy.

Our results provide evidence of a universal transcriptomic mechanism underlying the evolution of monogamy in vertebrates.”

Sally Robertson

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Sally Robertson

Sally has a Bachelor's Degree in Biomedical Sciences (B.Sc.). She is a specialist in reviewing and summarising the latest findings across all areas of medicine covered in major, high-impact, world-leading international medical journals, international press conferences and bulletins from governmental agencies and regulatory bodies. At News-Medical, Sally generates daily news features, life science articles and interview coverage.


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