Animal behavioural genetics

Published on June 2, 2014   22 min

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I'm really honored to be doing a Henry Stewart talk. My name is Temple Grandin. I am a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. And I'm going to be discussing some of the things that we discuss in our new book, Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals-- the Second Edition. Just came out really recently. One of the questions that people are always asking is, how much of animal behavior is nature-- in other words, genetics? And how much is nurture, which would be the environment.
There's an age-old question. How much of behavior is nature, and how much of behavior is nurture? And in our book, Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals, myself and many other scientists have chapters to answer that question. A lot has been learned about genetics in the last 10 years. And the mechanisms are complex. The old Mendelian genetics might only explain about 25% of inheritance. What a lot of people don't realize is that only 1% of the entire double helix actually codes for proteins. That's what's called the exome. What does the rest of the genome do? When I was in graduate school student back in the '80s, they used to call it junk DNA. I never believed in junk DNA. How could so much of the genome just be junk? We know now with the Encode Project that was just published in 2013, scientists have learned that a good part of that other so-called junk DNA probably is the genes' operating system. Something has to tell the coding DNA when to code for different things, otherwise you just have big cancerous blobs. Maybe there's some junk DNA. But there's some of that definitely has got to be the genes' operating system.
Scientists have now learned that what's just in the genetic code itself is not everything that determines inheritance. There's a process of what's called epigenentics where the environment can have some effect on the expressions of genes. And there was an old scientist Lamarck who said that you could inherit acquired traits, and everybody looked at Lamarck like he was absolutely, completely crazy. Well, there's some things he's done that have proven to be right. The genome itself doesn't change. But whether or not certain code on the genome can be read has been changed. You know how the double helix looks like a double helix. Well, you can either twist it down tight like a tight spring, and then there's no way you can read it, or you can untwist it. There's also a process called methylation, which are kind of chemical locks that can lock out pieces of code. And these are factors that can determine traits that can be inherited.

Animal behavioural genetics

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