Beta

Slashdot: News for Nerds

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Bees Reveal Nature-Nurture Secrets

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-bee dept.

Australia 84

NoFear writes "The nature-nurture debate is a 'giant step' closer to being resolved after scientists studying bees documented how environmental inputs can modify our genetic hardware. The researchers uncovered extensive molecular differences in the brains of worker bees and queen bees which develop along very different paths when put on different diets. The research was led by Professor Ryszard Maleszka of The Australian National University's College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, working with colleagues from the German Cancer Institute in Heidelberg, Germany and will be published next week in the online, open access journal PLoS Biology."

cancel ×

84 comments

Bees (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34155970)

There is no nature-nurture debate.

Re:Bees (1)

gringer (252588) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156294)

There is no nature-nurture debate.

Of course there is, just not among scientists (and certainly not among geneticists who are aware of heritability).

Re:Bees (1)

Kilrah_il (1692978) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156508)

I always thought the nature-nurture debate is a bit stupid. Seems to be part of the trend to find The Cause of everything. When you do cancer research you try to find what is the cause of cancer: Is it bad genes, environmental toxins or unhealthy lifestyle. It sometimes seems that scientists (esp. in the life-sciences) forget that it can be a combinations of the above together with the special magic ingredient called "Luck" (or bad luck).
The same is with the nature-nurture debate. They seem to ignore the most logical explanation: That a personal trait (behavior, for example) is the result of the individual's genetic makeup, environmental influences (e.g. education) and some element of luck. Even identical twins raised in exactly the same conditions have a great possibility to come out different. Since the body functions due to chemical processes that are inheritly statistical, there has to be a certain measure of incertainty - even if all the genetic and environmental factors are accounted for.

So the nature-nurture is just being turned into a petty argument over the relative influence of each factor: Is it 40% nature, 50% nurture and 10% blind luck or some other combination of the above.

Re:Bees (1)

whoever57 (658626) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156592)

You missed at least one factor -- your parents' and grandparents' environments. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Bees (1)

Kilrah_il (1692978) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156670)

You do understand I was talking in general terms? I'm sure I missed many more factors, but the basic idea still stands: It's more than one factor taking all the blame and luck/chance/statistics has a major part in it, in addition to the calculatable factors.

Re:Bees (2, Interesting)

endymion.nz (1093595) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157132)

What you call 'luck' is what the rest of us call 'a combination of known unknowns and unknown unknowns'. It absolutely is calculatable, given enough data and research.

Re:Bees (2, Interesting)

Kilrah_il (1692978) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157202)

I take a dice and throw it in the air. Even if I give you the starting terms and the exact forces used to throw the cube, you still cannot, with 100% absolute certainty, tell me what number it will land on. Even with everything known, there are things we cannot calculate.
I remember an example from Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book, "The Black Swan". If you hit a ball on a pool table, it is very easy to predict the outcome of the first collision. At about the 5th collision (IIRC, I don't have the book at hand), the mechanics of the collision are affected by the gravitational pull of someone standing near the table. A few more collisions, and the outcome is dependent on every mass in the universe. Given that, can you really predict the outcome of throwing a dice? Can you predict with 100% certainty if someone will have cancer, which type and at what age? We cannot predict everything, even if all the variables are taken into account. This uncertainty is what we call Luck.

Re:Bees (2, Interesting)

vertinox (846076) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157614)

I take a dice and throw it in the air. Even if I give you the starting terms and the exact forces used to throw the cube, you still cannot, with 100% absolute certainty, tell me what number it will land on. Even with everything known, there are things we cannot calculate.

I'm pretty sure if we had a marker on the cube and a hi-speed camera plus a rather fast image processing computer, we could give you an answer before the dice had landed. Also it wouldn't be too hard to create a robot arm to throw the dice with exactly the same force and position each time.

Dice have to adhere to the laws of physics just like everything else. Its just when humans throw them, there are so many variables that it seems random.

Now, when we start talking about particle decay or trying to determine the position of an electron.

Then yeah... We can start talking about random.

Re:Bees (1)

MadnessASAP (1052274) | more than 3 years ago | (#34158430)

Just because quantum physics is most obvious at sub-atomic levels does not mean it has no effect on the macroscopic world. Some cancers are potentially caused by nothing more then a gamma ray impacting a molecular structure in a cell in just the right not to cause it to start misbehaving. These gamma rays, being a result of a fusion reaction in the sun, are spawned with a random trajectory at a random time (quantum physics at work in the fusion reaction) and if it just happens to hit said molecule in you then you have lost the lottery, no defense, no way to predict it, it just happened so sorry. The same goes for a die throw or a pool table, the results can be predicted with excellent accuracy using only Newtonian physics up to a point after that the minuscule random effects start to add up and with all the sensory equipment and all the computing power in the world wont predict the outcome.

Unless of course you subscribe to Einsteins view of the universe where "God does not play dice with the universe" in which case you could do just that, assuming you knew the exact state of the whole universe down to an atomic level.

Re:Bees (1)

Kilrah_il (1692978) | more than 3 years ago | (#34159254)

If you re-read my pool table example, you would understand that even with a completely accurate robot arm, repeated throws of a dice would give you different results, because the operator/a nearby car/the moon/Alpha Centauri just moved a bit during the time between throws.

Re:Bees (1)

Eskarel (565631) | more than 3 years ago | (#34159308)

If you had enough data you could absolutely determine what side a dice will land on, the fact that determining those factors is outside the realm of any current technology we have and that no human being would be able to throw accurately enough to take advantage of them doesn't mean it couldn't be done. If you could calculate all the force which act, you could predict the result. The prediction isn't meaningful, but you could still do it.

Re:Bees (1)

Kilrah_il (1692978) | more than 3 years ago | (#34159696)

As I told someone else in this thread, to absolutely and 100% accurately predict the fall of a dice, you have to take into account every atom in the universe (see my example of the pool table). I find it hard to believe you would someday have a computer able to calculate that (and with only 640KB! :) ). Just look at the three-body problem. We still can't solve the gravitational relationships between 3 objects.
Even if possible, you should probably take into account also any minuscule force exerted by Quantum particles, which are completely random. Although they may have a small effect, they still add a measure of incertainty to the calculation.

Re:Bees (1)

JimFive (1064958) | more than 3 years ago | (#34161440)

to absolutely and 100% accurately predict the fall of a dice, you have to take into account every atom in the universe (see my example of the pool table).

I don't buy either example. At some reasonable range, probably measured in centimeters(or at most, meters), the external effects are so minute that they have no real effect on the motion of the dice, or the billiard ball. The fact that the billiard ball is cited from a popular book does not make it a credible statement. It is possible that the billiard ball example might be accurate in an idealized situation of perfectly elastic collisions and no friction, but that is hardly real life.

--
JimFive

Re:Bees (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157742)

It absolutely is calculatable, given enough data and research.

I believe that quantum mechanics would disagree with that statement.

Re:Bees (3, Funny)

MokuMokuRyoushi (1701196) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157158)

Get cancer, or do not get cancer. There is no luck.

Re:Bees (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 3 years ago | (#34159366)

Don't want to die of cancer? Just keep eating at McD and supersize your meals. Finish those huge sodas and servings of fries.

You won't die of cancer if you stick to this anti-cancer diet for the rest of your life.

Side effects? You won't live very long either :).

Re:Bees (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34160026)

Oh my God! That's a 50% chance of getting cancer!

DOOOOOOOooooooooooomed...

Re:Bees (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34157226)

Mmmh. But this is actually interesting, since as I understand it, the bee queen comes out of a normal larve that is selected by the worker bees to become a queen and gets fed with different food. So it is quite interesting that the genetic hardware changes due to food supply during development AFTER 'birth'.

Re:Bees (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157368)

It sometimes seems that scientists (esp. in the life-sciences) forget that it can be a combinations of the above together with the special magic ingredient called "Luck" (or bad luck).

Don't mistake the simplifications of journalists for a lack of understanding on the part of scientists. *Everyone* working on cancer knows that it is a multifactorial disease process.

Re:Bees (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34158406)

why don't they force this message?

Re:Bees (1)

Kilrah_il (1692978) | more than 3 years ago | (#34159266)

Agreed, but somehow during all my studies I never saw one doctor that included "Luck" as one of the causes of cancer. It seems they are afraid to include it. They prefer to believe in a false world where everything is potentially predictable. I believe that even in a thousand years, after finding all the causes of cancer, we would still have a significant portion (20%, 40%, 50%?) that will be subscribed to chance.

Re:Bees (1)

theghost (156240) | more than 3 years ago | (#34161906)

Luck is what people who don't believe in the supernatural call forces that they do not fully comprehend.

Re:Bees (1)

Kilrah_il (1692978) | more than 3 years ago | (#34167564)

Maybe. For me Luck is what I can otherwise call Randomness. Since even with the best calculation that we may have in the future, there will still be an element of randomness, there will always be room for "Luck". I can call it uncertainty, if you prefer it that way.

Re:Bees (1)

metrix007 (200091) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157670)

Right, we know through various studies that you are mainly shaped by your environment, not your genetics.

Re:Bees (1)

gringer (252588) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157774)

we know through various studies that you are mainly shaped by your environment, not your genetics.

It depends on the trait, see information on the aforementioned heritability [stanford.edu] .

If you refer to "shaped" as in physical appearance excluding clothing, hair dye, and other accessories, then there are a number of physical traits (considered distinguishing in western culture) that have a substantial or very high heritability, e.g. eye colour, height, hair colour, skin colour. The accessories, or external "shapes" that we put onto ourselves, have extremely low heritability. But even then it's still not always zero, e.g. a person with polydactyly [wikipedia.org] may not be able to fit a standard glove or shoe, hair dyes [wikipedia.org] for some colours do not work for all base hair colours, a tetrachromat [wikipedia.org] may have a different fashion sense and choose a greater variety of "green" clothes to wear.

Re:Bees (1)

mister_playboy (1474163) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156824)

Agreed... it's a false dichotomy.

Resolving this debate is as easy as describing the sound of one hand clapping or finding a coin with only one side.

Re:Bees (2, Insightful)

metrix007 (200091) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157686)

The sound of one hand clapping sounds similar to two hands clapping, but less loud due to less force. A coin with one side would be a mobius strip as currency.

Kosher diet? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34155982)

So if we put the niggers on a kosher diet, will they finally learn how to act civilized?

Re:Kosher diet? (2, Interesting)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156174)

People may not like to hear it, but the parent comment succinctly embodies the motivations for all nature-nurture studies and indeed a significant chunk of genetic/biology studies seen in the popular press.

People can be bigoted and racist if they want; but we are free to object when they try to call their opinions science.

Re:Kosher diet? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34156236)

No, their wide noses will grow longer and with a downward hook and they will accuse everybody of being anti-Semitic instead of racist.

The negroid aversion to work combined with the increased greed of a Jew will cause them to ask for more handouts. And the most famous of 'em, Barack Hussein Sotero, is already basically a Jew anyway.

With Jews, we lose.

Great to see... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34156000)

...that a possibly major scientific paper is published in an open access journal. This trend seems ever more powerful, to the benefit of all, except the usual vultures (Elzevier, Springer, Wiley...).

Beads?!? (1)

longhairedgnome (610579) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156016)

But we’re gonna need a lot. Beads aren’t cheap. Are beads cheap?

Re:Beads?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34156072)

Gob's not on board.

Whiner excuse of the millenia (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34156024)

It's not my fault I turned out like this, I didn't get the right foods when I was young.

Research publication is being delayed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34156040)

Researchers preferred to have a frank discussion of the results with their children before releasing the results to the playground.

Behavior of a program: code or input? (5, Insightful)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156086)

What is the cause of the behavior of a program, its code or input? Obviously both in virtually all cases. The code sets what inputs it can respond to, and the inputs determine which response occurs. Flexible programs have long-term state, allowing inputs to have an effect on response far into the future. Why is there even a debate as to whether it's the code or input that entirely decides behavior? The particular behavior depends on the program, of course. A program which merely echoes its input back, without any state, is less-flexible than one that receives a script, then interprets it.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (2, Insightful)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156126)

And throw in all the wild varieties of virus inputs that mucks and morphs the code...

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (1, Interesting)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156152)

Organisms are not programs. DNA is not data. Biology is not a branch of computer science.

In bygone times, people would compare animals and indeed human beings to clocks or steam engines. Comparing them to computers is just a flawed and just as misleading. However, it is more fashionable, so I doubt people will stop doing it anytime soon.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (2, Insightful)

brian_tanner (1022773) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156336)

I don't know about fashionable, but perhaps necessary if you want to do science. It seems natural to model the behavior of most things as a function of a) initial conditions b) input c) randomness/stochasticity. For fixed initial conditions and input, you can model the distribution of outcomes. Then you can model how that distribution changes as you change initial conditions and inputs. Eventually you can look at behaviour and hypothesize about its causes, perhaps making changes to the initial conditions or inputs in the future to try to achieve better outcomes. OR, sometimes even better, realize that the causes of the outcome are not distinguishable from the randomness and therefore cannot reliably be changed. Maybe there is a small probability that people just turn out to be serial killers. Tough, deal with it.

That all seems pretty scientific to me: not computer scientific, just scientific.

I don't see an obvious alternative approach, for people that want to model/understand the behaviour of the organism. Not a scientific one, anyway. I mean we could just say it's too complicated and we can never understand/model it, which may be true. But that would just mean we don't have a tight enough model of either a) the initial conditions b) the inputs or c) the randomness. And perhaps we never can create models that are good enough to be useful. That's a question worth answering, and one that science can address.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (3, Insightful)

catbutt (469582) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156348)

It is a simple analogy, and makes plenty of sense. It isn't a matter of being "fashionable", people have tried to understand biology by analogy to man-made machines for centuries, and it is very useful.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34156402)

Organisms are not programs. DNA is not data. Biology is not a branch of computer science.

In bygone times, people would compare animals and indeed human beings to clocks or steam engines. Comparing them to computers is just a flawed and just as misleading. However, it is more fashionable, so I doubt people will stop doing it anytime soon.

How so?

Clocks & Steam Engines are set in their design and structures, so of course that was silly.

Programs are dynamic and I don't see an issue with stating that organisms are programs, because programs are simply a set of operations and parameters based on a language.

The real problem is we don't understand the compiler (biology) for the DNA (code) as well as we should. So the medical sciences are a lot like reverse engineering a program with a lot higher difficulty. But one could absolutely say that if we did understand how it all worked that it could be programmed in a code.

I think it could be possible one day for these structures to be understood well enough to program a simulation of an organism and then we would be able to experiment with other inputs (custom medicines, viruses, nutrients) and observe how they work in real life.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34156562)

Organisms are not programs. DNA is not data. Biology is not a branch of computer science.

In bygone times, people would compare animals and indeed human beings to clocks or steam engines. Comparing them to computers is just a flawed and just as misleading. However, it is more fashionable, so I doubt people will stop doing it anytime soon.

How so?

...

A dump is a lot stinkier.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34156736)

| Clocks & Steam Engines are set in their design and structures, so of course that was silly.
for a long time, in popular media, genetics was looked at in exactly that way.

we ought to have more than one way to look at it. here is a notion i've read about somewhere that i prefer:

biologic processes are highly decentralized, very amorph, they have no identities as we know them in mathematics. they take randomness for granted and deal with it as if it was a natural force - quite unlike how we try create "perfect code" to maintain it's repeatability. natural bodies are in a way bound to their environment, constantly changing shape by accepting the nice parts and refusing the nasty parts. more flexible and more "intelligent".

but "reverse-engineering". that's it, precisely.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (1)

Urkki (668283) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156832)

Programs are dynamic and I don't see an issue with stating that organisms are programs, because programs are simply a set of operations and parameters based on a language.

The real problem is we don't understand the compiler (biology) for the DNA (code) as well as we should. So the medical sciences are a lot like reverse engineering a program with a lot higher difficulty. But one could absolutely say that if we did understand how it all worked that it could be programmed in a code.

The thing with biology is, you can't separate the compiler and the code. DNA defines the machinery that defines what that DNA means. Function of proteins is largely determined by the environment, which is determined by how those same proteins work. Etc.

To decode DNA into computer code would require simulating cellular machinery at quantum mechanical level (because exact folding and functioning of proteins depends on very subtle interactions between electron "clouds" of individual atoms in molecules participating in the reactions). Not gonna happen in foreseeable future, or perhaps never without a major breakthrough in quantum computing or something like that.

What we can hope from "understanding" is, that when we observer cellular machinery or individual proteins working, we can understand why it works like that. But going the other way, reliably predicting how they work without observation... Not going to happen without a quantum computing revolution or something like that. The best we can hope for is guessing "this protein has these functional groups, so it may do something like this", and being right most of the time.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (4, Insightful)

Simon80 (874052) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156410)

Comparing us to computers is not as flawed and not as misleading, because DNA is in fact data, and does encode behaviour, in the same way that a stream of bits can encode data or actions. The difference is that DNA is base-four and is interpreted through molecular machinery in ways that are far more complicated than any human-designed instruction set or data format. The analogy holds, otherwise. This isn't the same as blindly comparing organisms to other human-made stuff, because computers are programmable, and the other stuff is not.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (1)

entotre (1929174) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157304)

DNA is in fact data, and does encode behaviour, in the same way that a stream of bits can encode data or actions. The difference is that DNA is base-four and is interpreted through molecular machinery in ways that are far more complicated than any human-designed instruction set or data format..

There is another difference: The computers are not build by the data they contain. I can get on board if the analogy is comparing humans to the software.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34158288)

There is another difference: The computers are not build by the data they contain. I can get on board if the analogy is comparing humans to the software.

Except for those computers running the manufacturing of themselves.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34159376)

Heh, perhaps you should compare DNA to lisp code, eh?

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (2, Insightful)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156696)

Organisms are not programs. DNA is not data. Biology is not a branch of computer science.

In bygone times, people would compare animals and indeed human beings to clocks or steam engines. Comparing them to computers is just a flawed and just as misleading. However, it is more fashionable, so I doubt people will stop doing it anytime soon.

I disagree. Biological systems, mechanical systems, electronic systems, etc. all have something in common: potential energy is used to produce output. Energy -> system -> output. Each series of systems certainly have different complexity levels, but making such comparisons is entirely valid.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34156788)

You are right that it is just as flawed and misleading, which is to say, both are perfectly fine comparisons. Your body is nothing more than an extremely complex machine.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156956)

First off, you have no justification for being rude. Second, I wasn't claiming that DNA was code or data. The idea was to work on a simpler problem that's superficially similar, and see whether one is able to think about that without trouble. If one has trouble with that, one is sure to have trouble with the biological one. It's like testing something; you first start with things that you are sure of the proper response. If that fails, you can be fairly sure it will fail for more complex things. One's ability to think about a subject can be tested in a similar way. It won't catch all problems, but it can at least catch some.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (2, Insightful)

Eil (82413) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157076)

Organisms are not programs. DNA is not data. Biology is not a branch of computer science.

Biology is distinct from computer science in terms of how we presently study them, yes. But they are both based on the same fundamental truths of the universe we exist in. (Some of which we do not know or fully understand yet.) Discovering these truths allows us to model biological systems and computer systems in much the same way.

DNA sequences are most certainly data. They describe how an organism builds itself, and to a certain extent, behaves. I'm surprised anyone believes that is open for debate.

In bygone times, people would compare animals and indeed human beings to clocks or steam engines. Comparing them to computers is just a flawed and just as misleading. However, it is more fashionable, so I doubt people will stop doing it anytime soon.

Nobody seriously attempts to assert that an organism is comparable in complexity to a man-made machine of our times. But there are cases where an analogy is apt for the purposes of explanation. That there are differences in the complexity or specific mechanisms is usually implied if not explicitly stated. A biology teacher might describe how the human eye works in terms of a camera to a group of photography students, for example.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (2, Interesting)

shugah (881805) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157596)

The "program" analogy is actually pretty good as far as analogies go - certainly far better than "clocks" or "steam engines", although the appropriateness of the analogy really depends on the context and purpose.

The genome of an organism (it's hereditary information) is encoded into its DNA - this would be the "program". DNA is composed of genes, sequences of genetic information that encode specific traits - analogous to statements or commands. Genes are composed of codons - analogous to words or bytes. There are even protocols (micro-code) or rules for encoding, transcribing and translating genes - start codons, stop codons, built in redundancy, and other sequences that aid the transcription machinery. The RNA "reads" (transcribes) a gene and ribosomes synthesize a protein.

So at least at the cellular level, the computer program analogy seems fairly good. For non-sentient animals, you could even use a computer analogy at the organism level. Brains process information, have long term and short term memory, various interfaces exist for input (sensory) and output (motor and instinctual behavior), etc.

However at the organism level, the computer analogy fails with humans, only because we don't yet have a computer that is truly intelligent of self aware. That's probably why the whole nature - nurture thing is interesting to people who work in AI.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34158894)

I only take issue with your middle statement. DNA is data. Have you heard of codons? How about introns?

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34160048)

In bygone times, people would compare animals and indeed human beings to clocks or steam engines. Comparing them to computers is just a flawed and just as misleading.

Absolutely! Everyone here knows they're much more like cars. The brain, obviously, is the steering wheel, as it controls the direction of the car. Or is the brain the ECU? Either way, the engine is the heart of the car. And the lungs are the carburetors.

Hey, when are we going to get our direct-injection circulatory systems?

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (1)

suomynonAyletamitlU (1618513) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156412)

I think the original question (to give it fair credit) is "which is a better predictor of behavior?" Are criminals only criminals because nobody was there to hug them as they were growing up--will outreach programs solve the problem after a few generations? Is criminality something that a person is born with--is the blood of a criminal something that is passed down, and should they be persecuted for it? What about nobility? Is that in the blood, or can anyone, no matter how low their birth, be the next (proverbial) king? What about genius? Idiocy? Empathy, sadism?

While I believe in nurture (especially in most of the situations above), I can completely understand and accept that thousands of scientists (and philosophers) through the ages have tried to make sense of it all and failed. Unfortunately, there's no clean experimental slate, and there won't be probably until AI is developed. There's no way to figure out every damned nuance, especially since the more you (coldly, unfeelingly) stare at them and control their life, the more you affect the results. And you can't step back from your feelings to properly test some things, not without being a terrible parent/guardian.

Re:Behavior of a program: code or input? (1)

mppp (1936232) | more than 3 years ago | (#34158066)

This is a misrepresentation of the problem. Clearly, observed behavior is the result of a particular combination of input and program. The question isn't whether it's one or the other, but rather, given the knowledge of only one or the other, how much of the observed behavior can you explain? And, moreover, to what extent does the input change the program?

And... (2, Funny)

Dreth (1885712) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156282)

When bees were asked about this study, they just cheered that they're making the news again after so long.

what debate? (4, Insightful)

catbutt (469582) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156322)

I often hear it referred to as "the nature/nurture debate," as if people are actually debating whether we are products of our genetics or our environment. There is no debate, we are products of both. I suppose there are lots of little debates about how much each affects some particular trait. But the implication here that there is a single, central debate that can somehow be "resolved" is absurd.

Re:what debate? (1)

Amorymeltzer (1213818) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156420)

The "debate" isn't concerned with whether or not nature or nurture affects us - as you say, the answer is of course. The debate is about two things - how much of a role each one plays and how the two roles interact. We get that your diet as an infant can affect how you grow up, but the better question is how that diet actually elicits a change and response in your genetics or general physiology.

Re:what debate? (1)

Flambergius (55153) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156558)

I agree with you on the nature/nurture issue itself, but I think you wrong about this being a settled issue in the societies at large. The quiet is due to people not caring.

Re:what debate? (1)

entotre (1929174) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157170)

The quiet is due to people not caring.

I think they care a great deal, the same way they care about medical research. Immigration policies, adoption and eating habits are all examples of big subjects closely related to the nature/nurture issue.

Re:what debate? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34156606)

If you don't understand what the article or the debate is about, then stop acting like an expert on the matter, because you are clearly not.

debate on detail (1)

DrYak (748999) | more than 3 years ago | (#34218996)

yeah, bur creationist, young earthist and other crazy crackpot theorists need this kind of hyperbol. How otherwise are they going to pretend that " [hard science xyz] is a theory in crisis as proved by major debate therefore we have to teach content of bronze-age book as a viable alternative" ?

I think the whole nature-nurture debate is hogwash (4, Insightful)

tijnbraun (226978) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156422)

To quote Matt Ridley:

The discovery of how genes actually influence human behaviour, and how human behaviour influences genes, is about to recast the debate entirely. No longer is it nature versus nurture, but nature via nurture. Genes are designed to take their cues from nurture

Goodbye, nature vs nurture [newscientist.com]

Replace human for bee or for organism and I think the quote still stands. It is not that the behaviour of an organism is for the most part determined by it genes, or either that is is determined by it nurture.

Nurture will give direction, Nature will limit the abilities.

How much you'll train a dog, it will never be able to play chess. How much you'll train a toddler, it will never be able to have capabilities to follow a scent trail like a bloodhound.

Re:I think the whole nature-nurture debate is hogw (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34156524)

I play chess with my dog all the time. He's the only one I can beat!

Re:I think the whole nature-nurture debate is hogw (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34156566)

[...]
How much you'll train a dog, it will never be able to play chess. How much you'll train a toddler, it will never be able to have capabilities to follow a scent trail like a bloodhound.

No one is debating absurdities like that though. The question is more like, was Manson destined to be a serial killer or was that a social effect? Or phrased more dangerously, if I add some environmental inputs, can I make sure no one is gay ever again?

Re:I think the whole nature-nurture debate is hogw (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157268)

Or you take the third approach: it was inevitable that Manson became what he is. We humans are composed of non-thinking, non-sentient base elements (mainly hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and other trace metals). As such, our bodies are bound by the physical laws of this universe. Change the position of one quark at the beginning of the universe and our solar system may not even exist today (let alone Charles Manson).

Re:I think the whole nature-nurture debate is hogw (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34157826)

[...]
How much you'll train a dog, it will never be able to play chess. How much you'll train a toddler, it will never be able to have capabilities to follow a scent trail like a bloodhound.

No one is debating absurdities like that though. The question is more like, was Manson destined to be a serial killer or was that a social effect? Or phrased more dangerously, if I add some environmental inputs, can I make sure no one is gay ever again?

The discussion is sometimes even more subtle than that, though: it's more like "on average are there systematic differences in genetic material between a group of serial killers and normal individuals, and on average are there differences in social circumstances (causally unrelated to the differences in genetic material) between a group of serial killers and normal individuals?"

Discussing causality with a single individual is very complex.

I think sometimes people discussing "nature-nurture" issues are discussing totally different topics (as your reply to the parent is suggesting). E.g., understanding the physiological constants involved in throwing a basketball isn't the same as understanding the source of the differences between pro basketball players and most of the rest of us.

In any event, I thought the quotes about this article were absurd. E.g., ""In the bees, more than 550 genes are differentially marked between the brain of the queen and the brain of the worker, which contributes to their profound divergence in behaviour. This study provides the first documentation of extensive molecular differences that may allow honey bees to generate different reproductive and behavioural outcomes as a result of differential feeding with royal jelly."

I'm sorry, I'll be the first to advocate for animal models of behavior, and fully acknowledge that people and bees aren't as different as many assume. However, the behavioral phenotypes involved are *way* more easily characterized than in people. Maybe if 10% of the population had a completely different behavioral and physical phenotype, and was being fed some special substance, I might be willing to go along with statements like the ones being made. The research is really interesting, but the genetics of behavior is not going to be resolved by this study. Sorry.

Re:I think the whole nature-nurture debate is hogw (1)

entotre (1929174) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157056)

Nurture will give direction, Nature will limit the abilities.

I think you may be confusing nurture with training. In any case, nurture can certainly be limiting (as in eating habits effect on athletic performance) and nature can give directions (the giraffe will eat from tall trees).

Re:I think the whole nature-nurture debate is hogw (1)

yarbo (626329) | more than 3 years ago | (#34160420)

Richard Feynman talked about this in one of his books, Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman (I think). He said with a bit of practice, he could tell which objects in a room were handled by which people. I don't see why you couldn't train a human to follow a trail with some level of success.

Re:I think the whole nature-nurture debate is hogw (1)

radtea (464814) | more than 3 years ago | (#34162072)

Replace human for bee or for organism and I think the quote still stands.

It's been obvious for decades now that "nature vs nurture" is a stupid way to decompose the various influences on human behaviour, but journalists and idiots (but I repeat myself) will continue to ask the "burning" question "nature vs nurture?" for at least a couple of decades more.

Even so, /. in 2025 will probably carry stories with headlines:

"Nature or Nurture: Which explains the failure of Linux on the desktop?"

"Engineers look to unexpected places for variable geometry low-speed wing design: birds!"

"Company goes green for totally unexpected reason: to save money!"

We're going to solve nature vs nurture! (2, Funny)

Mr Pleco (1160587) | more than 3 years ago | (#34156530)

For BEES!

That will be totally applicable to humans.

Once we learn to fly.
And turn yellow with black stripes.
And grow bee fuzz.
And grow another pair of limbs...

There are political ramifications to this question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34156950)

The upper classes have, in the past and even now, claimed a genetic superiority that justifies their position.

If nurture is the big thing that determines outcomes, it makes sense to spend money on early childhood education and on schools. Society will be much better served if the kids in the ghetto becomes doctors and lawyers rather than career criminals.

On the other hand, if genetics determine everything, there is no point spending money in the ghetto. The population is defective and we should just build a fence around them, toss in food and wait for them to kill each other off.

It seems pretty clear that a big portion of our population sides with the nature side of the argument. It is easier to spend money on jails than on inner city schools.

The trouble with this bee study is that it is too nuanced. In that regard it isn't such a big step forward. It isn't the thing that will convince most of the public (which is us) to change our entrenched prejudices.

For those in the research community, the nature vs. nurture argument has been moot for rather a long time.

Where's the news in this? (1)

satuon (1822492) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157052)

I remember reading an article years ago mentioning that queen bees become queens because their were fed a special diet not because they are genetically different. In fact they said it while explaining how if a queen bee dies the workers simply pick a worker larva at random and feed it royal jelly and it becomes a new queen bee. The article spoke of it even then as a well accepted fact, not some breaking news.

So this can't be the news. From reading the article I gather the researchers discovered the actual chemical mechanism, whatever it is. That's the only news here. But most comments' authors here on slashdot seem to talk about 'nature vs nurture' as if we discovered worker larvas can become queen bees just this minute.

What's more interesting is to note that the bees' DNA is obviously crafted to look for that different 'royal jelly', and uses it as a trigger. The royal jelly doesn't change the DNA, it's just a code for which the DNA looks.

Re:Where's the news in this? (1)

Skinkie (815924) | more than 3 years ago | (#34157352)

Its basically simple, any worker is a queen and any queen is a worker for the first 3 days of their larve state. They both get royal jelly, the queen 'to bee' maintains on her royal jelly the larve that will be a worker doesn't. This is exploited when breeding queen bees, if there is no queen in the hive all 3 day larve will get royal jelly and they all will be queen bees. The debate here is obviously triggers royal jelly some genetic change, or is development of some parts of the body in the 4th - 6th day more prominent. Don't forget: workers CAN lay eggs, they will be drones.

New and Exciting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34157566)

The article calls this a novel demonstration of DNA methylation, even though we've known about this phenomenon for quite some time. Granted, epigenetics is an emerging branch of biology, but this is hardly new.

Blatant Plagiarism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34158514)

So this pretty much answers much of what we already know ...
The answer is 42 and we are all just components of a giant computer

The triune brain (1)

gr8dude (832945) | more than 3 years ago | (#34159822)

There is an interesting book, called "A general theory of love", it describes a model - the triune brain*, which stipulates that the brain is made from 3 different regions (reptilian, limbic, neocortex) and explains how they interact with each other.

The authors provide a lot of examples which illustrate that in the case of mammals, nurture plays a very important role. Children who do not play, or who don't hang out with other humans grow up to be solitary, lacking social skills, their lives are shorter, they get sick more often, etc.

Experiments with other primates yield similar results; read about "the wire mother" and "the pit of despair".

Insects have a much more simple nervous system; the findings described in the article mean that even at such levels - there's still something that can override whatever is defined in the DNA. In the case of complex life forms with a neocortex - this wouldn't be a surprise; I'm impressed by the fact that bees have such a feature.

* The triune brain model is known to have some issues, but it is still an interesting read.

What about the making of drones? (1)

howzit (1667699) | more than 3 years ago | (#34159832)

Nurture not only makes a queen out of the common female lava (that would have become a female worker) but also the drones that are MALE. So, as suggested, the DNA of a female worker and the DNA of a queen may be the same but royal jelly 'triggers' the DNA to make a bigger queen; then what about making the drone? The DNA of a female, be it worker or queen, can't possibly be the same as a male, the drone, can it?

Re:What about the making of drones? (1)

jtev (133871) | more than 3 years ago | (#34166904)

In bees males are haploid and females are diploid. If the egg is not fertilized it develops into a male. If it is, it develops into a female. In mammals the usual pattern is for sex determining chromosomes to determine sex rather than polyploidity.

Re:What about the making of drones? (1)

grikdog (697841) | more than 3 years ago | (#34167464)

Nurture not only makes a queen out of the common female lava (that would have become a female worker) but also the drones that are MALE. So, as suggested, the DNA of a female worker and the DNA of a queen may be the same but royal jelly 'triggers' the DNA to make a bigger queen; then what about making the drone? The DNA of a female, be it worker or queen, can't possibly be the same as a male, the drone, can it?

Haploid drones, contributing genes to the queens of other hives, also contribute to the code/data pool because they are the members of the hive which sample the local environment most often. Queens are exposed to the environment on one maiden flight during which they mate with drones which run the environmental gauntlet all Spring and Summer until the hive shuts down for Winter. In other words, drones have a huge metaphorical thumb on the evolutionary scales compared to every other member of the hive, including queens.

Not really nature/nurture. (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 3 years ago | (#34160354)

Bees are not a good example here. Their genome contains two fairly fixed paths (queen bee, worker bee) that are chosen depending on what kind of food the bee is fed as a larva. The individual cannot "transcend" its set of genes, it's just that the bee genome contains these two paths.

Finally Solved! (1)

Mattskimo (1452429) | more than 3 years ago | (#34160614)

I'm glad that scientists have finally solved that pesky nature/nurture debate that headline writers seem to like so much. I mean there was me thinking that most people with any sort of intelligence and/or access to publised studies realised that most matters were "a bit of both".
Check for New Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...