Speaker: Richard Ebstein
Venue: AS7, 01-17, Seminar Room B
Content: see below
“A molecular genetics approach towards understanding human altruism”
As noted by Darwin in the Descent of Man “the bravest, most self-sacrificial men would, on average, perish in larger number than other men” and hence the paradox of altruism. The biological basis for altruistic giving is more than an academic question. In the US alone charitable donations has been estimated to take up 3% of its GDP. In 2008 our group carried out the first molecular genetic study of economic decision making by showing that the length of the arginine vasopressin 1a receptor (AVPR1a) promoter-region repeat RS3 partially predicts the amount of allocations in a standard Dictator Game. These first findings have been partially replicated in a Beijing sample. More recently we have shown association between AVPR1a and altruistic giving in a group of toddlers. We have also examined the closely related oxytocin receptor (OXTR) for its role in altruistic giving. We will discuss our most recent study using a genome-wide association (GWAS) strategy in ~1800 Han Chinese towards identifying additional genes contributing to altruistic giving. Our studies have naturally been extended to the role of oxytocin and vasopressin genes in contributing to dysfunctions of social cognition –especially autism spectrum disorders. Altogether, in our talk we will integrate evidence from a diverse variety of research strategies including endocrinology, pharmacology and imaging genomics that support the conclusions drawn from genetic association studies of social phenotypes and detail how common polymorphisms in arginine vasopressin (AVP)-oxytocin (OT) pathway genes contribute to the behavioral hard wiring that enables individual Homo sapiens to interact successfully with conspecifics.
About the speaker:
Richard Ebstein’s research revolves around human behavior genetics, with the overarching goal of providing molecular insights into the role of genes as a partial contributor to all facets of human behavior. His work is highly interdisciplinary and combines personality, social, cognitive, and neuropsychology with techniques of molecular genetics. Major research areas include neuroeconomics, the genetics of social behavior and normal personality, autism, ADHD, eating disorders, and substance abuse.