When Boy Fish Build Castles to Impress Girl Fish, Boy Genes Get a Rise

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A special breed of cichlid fish has allowed researchers to match up gene activation with behavior. The up and down-regulation of genes may actually be steering ritual mating behaviors. The research is potentially useful in understanding autism since some genes involved in the fish behavior have human genetic cousins implicated in autism spectrum disorder. Credit: Georgia Tech / Rob Felt

What fish won't do for love: For days, male cichlids scoop up sand and spit it in piles to build structures called bowers to attract females. Scientists have now observed genes activate while they do it. Could gene activation be steering the behavior? Credit: Georgia Tech / Ben Brumfield / Felt

Professor Todd Streelman stands between fish tanks containing cichlids that are involved in research to explore the connection between genes and behavior and how behavior and genes evolve together. Streelman chairs Georgia Tech's School of Biological Sciences. Credit: Georgia Tech / Todd Streelman

Graduate research assistant Chinar Patil (l.) and postdoctoral researcher Zachary Johnson (r.) sequence DNA for a study that found gene activation coinciding with behavior in fish and looked for clues to the common evolution of genes and behaviors. Patil and Johnson are in Todd Streelman's Georgia Tech lab. Credit: Georgia Tech / Ben Brumfield

This male cichlid, a species not involved in Todd Streelman's studies, scoops and spits sand to build structures called bowers that attract a female mate. Credit: Cezary Porycki / CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8897258