Dr. Walter Wilczynski in the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at Georgia State University has received a five-year $499,209 National Science Foundation grant to form a Research Coordination Network focused on advancing the field of sociogenomics.
This field can be the foundation for integrating molecular biology, neuroscience, psychology and evolutionary biology to provide deep insights into the molecular processes behind social interactions in all species, including humans.
Sociogenomics is an emerging field of biology. It is dedicated to identifying genes that influence social behavior and how these genes affect neural circuits in the brain. It also examines ways in which the social environment influences how an individual's genes are expressed. According to Wilczynski, understanding the root of social behavior at the molecular level is a high-stakes endeavor with important conceptual and biomedical implications.
"This knowledge has the potential to impact mechanistic and evolutionary questions in basic biological science by providing deep insights into the genetic mechanisms responsible for behaviors as diverse as social bonding, cooperation and aggression that are common in many organisms - including humans - and how these have evolved," said Wilczynski, who is also director of Georgia State's Neuroscience Institute and a professor of neuroscience and psychology.
"Sociogenomics also has important medical implications. Many neurological disorders from autism spectrum disorders to schizophrenia can severely impair a person's ability to engage in normal social interactions. Understanding how social behavior is regulated at the molecular level will help us understand these diseases."
This grant is part of the National Science Foundation's Research Coordination Network grant program, which funds activities to advance a field or create new directions in research or education by supporting groups of investigators to communicate and coordinate their research.
Wilczynski's network, known as the Sociogenomics Initiative RCN, will bring together researchers, faculty and students from several prominent universities across the U.S. and Canada who are focused on the genomic mechanisms underlying social behavior. Other institutions represented are: Colorado State University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Duke University, Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Hutchinson Research Center, Johns Hopkins University, Indiana University, Iowa State University, Morehouse College, North Carolina State University, Penn State University, Stanford University, the University of Illinois, the University of Texas, the University of Toronto and the University of Virginia.
"Developing comprehensive knowledge of social behavior in molecular terms requires large-scale collaboration and multidisciplinary approaches," Wilczynski said. "Additionally, sustaining progress in this complex area of biology requires integrating the research with student training. Ongoing structured interaction among network members will provide the scale and analytical power necessary to achieve a transformation in the understanding of social behavior's molecular basis."
The network's goals are to establish and sustain a consortium of researchers who will advance the field of sociogenomics through collaborations, data sharing and technical development. Another is to extend interest in sociogenomics to a broader range of researchers in numerous fields. The third is to link the network's research functions to educational initiatives. These goals will be accomplished through cohesive activities such as hosting an annual sociogenomics international meeting, supporting exchanges between labs, conducting workshops and maintaining a network website.