Everyone knows not to get between a mother and her offspring. What makes these females unafraid when it comes to protecting their young may be low levels of a peptide, or small piece of protein, released in the brain that normally activates fear and anxiety, according to new research published in the August issue of Behavioral Neuroscience.
A female mouse gathers, grooms and nurses her 3-day-old pups in the research lab of assistant professor of zoology Stephen Gammie. Gammie has studied the link between maternal aggression in mice and levels of a peptide hormone that controls behavior, particularly an animals response to fear and anxiety. Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
View from below as a female mouse gathers her 8-day-old pups in the research lab of assistant professor of zoology Stephen Gammie. Gammie has studied the link between maternal aggression in mice and levels of a peptide hormone that controls behavior, particularly an animals response to fear and anxiety.Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
"We see this fierce protection of offspring is so many animals," says Stephen Gammie, a University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor of zoology and lead author of the recent paper. "There are stories of cats rescuing their kittens from burning buildings and birds swooping down at people when their chicks are on the ground."
In terms of biology, it makes sense that mothers would lay down their own lives to protect their offspring, especially if it means the parents genes will be passed down to the next generation, says Gammie.
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Researchers from the Department of Atomically Resolved Dynamics of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg, the University of Potsdam (both in Germany) and the University of Toronto (Canada) have pieced together a detailed time-lapse movie revealing all the major steps during the catalytic cycle of an enzyme. Surprisingly, the communication between the protein units is accomplished via a water-network akin to a string telephone. This communication is aligned with a ‘breathing’ motion, that is the expansion and contraction of the protein.
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