Animals rely on group behavior to survive, whether it’s fish swimming together to avoid predators or humans sharing knowledge with each other. But despite the importance of such social interactions, scientists do not have a good understanding of the biological processes that guide collective behavior.In a new study published in iScience, researchers at Harvard University and the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior developed a new way to study how genes influence collective behavior. Using zebrafish as a model, they set out to establish the connection between genetic mutations and behavior.“We are interested in answering a fundamental biological question: why do animals live in groups?” said Mark Fishman, Harvard professor of stem cell and regenerative biology. “To search for genes that affect collective behavior, we focused on genetic mutations that are associated with psychiatric diseases that have a social behavior component, including autism and schizophrenia.”The team observed that in fish with specific genetic mutations associated with human psychiatric disease, group behavior was altered. The findings pave the way for a new generation of research into neuropsychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, autism, and depression.Tracking individual interactionsThe researchers tested 90 different genes to see if they affect zebrafish social behavior, using gene editing to mutate one gene at a time. For each genetic mutation, the researchers put the edited fish together in a large tank to see how they interacted with each other.“We used computer vision to track individual fish and analyze their interactions,” said Fishman. “By documenting how interactions change among the fish — whether they get out of each other’s way, or whether they align with each other — we could see how the overall pattern of group behavior changes.”The researchers found several genetic mutations that had a distinctive effect on fish group behavior. Normally, zebrafish spend much of their time in dynamically moving groups, called “schools” when all moving together in a coordinated fashion, and “shoals” when in less directed groups. Some mutations affected these groups, for example causing the fish to be scattered throughout the tank, or huddling together in one location.,Investigating fundamental questionsThe zebrafish model established in this study opens new avenues to investigating group behavior.“We developed new computational tools for tracking and analyzing behavior among animals, which provide a powerful means to investigate how genetic factors influence collective behaviors,” said Iain Couzin, Director of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and Chair of Biodiversity and Collective Behaviour at the University of Konstanz. “This is a first step toward developing a mechanistic understanding of the genetic basis of social behavior, and to understand more clearly how specific neural defects impact behavior in the way they do.”“Many questions about group behavior have eluded biologists at a fundamental level: What is the nature of leadership and followership? How do individual personality traits — such as boldness, shyness, and sociability — contribute to overall group behavior? What drives conformity and individuality?” said Fishman. “This study gives us insight into approaches that might help us understand group behavior at the level of the individual.”Beyond tracking swimming patterns, Fishman plans to dive deeper into zebrafish biology, looking at how neuronal activity and gene expression might connect to the behavioral changes.Furthermore, Fishman believes the zebrafish model could be useful in future testing of potential drugs for psychiatric disease. “Perhaps there is a conservation from fish to humans of genes that direct group behavior, albeit playing out in a species-specific manner,” said Fishman. “If so, it is conceivable that zebrafish group behavior will help us better understand psychiatric disease, and even provide a method to discover therapeutics for these currently poorly treated disorders.”Funding provided by research grants from FBRI (F-Prime Capital), Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the Heidelberg Academy of Science, the National Science Foundation (NSF IOS-1355061), and Office of Naval Research Grants (N00014-09-1-1074 and N00014-14-1-0635).
The thought of teenage drivers strikes fear into the hearts of parents everywhere. The dangers of talking on the cell phone or texting while driving adds even more worry.University of Georgia Cooperative Extension has created a program to address the fears of parents while preparing teenagers with the skills they need to drive safely. The Georgia Traffic Injury Prevention Institute’s Parents Reducing Injuries and Driver Error (P.R.I.D.E.) program has more than 200 instructors teaching classes for both parents and teenagers throughout the state.“P.R.I.D.E. helps parents learn what they need to do to help their teen drivers meet the state’s licensing requirements and become safer drivers,” said Frankie Jones, director of the GTPI.P.R.I.D.E. is a two-hour program that focuses on driver attitude, knowledge and behavior. It addresses seat belt use, crash dynamics, Georgia’s teen driving laws, parental influence and peer pressure. “One of the things that makes P.R.I.D.E. special is that it is the only program in the state that requires a parent or guardian to attend with the teenager,” Jones said. “Research shows that teen drivers who have parents involved in the driving process are less likely to be involved in a crash.”Kim Martinek, a resident of Roswell, Ga., hopes that her involvement in her daughter’s driving education will have lasting positive effects on her driving ability. Martinek, whose daughter, Alyssa, just passed her driving test and received her driver’s license, has all of the typical fears of parents of soon-to-be-drivers. “I am mainly nervous because of all the possible distractions in the car, like the radio and her friends,” Martinek said. “I also worry about the distractions her phone can cause and whether she will be able to focus on the road like she needs to.”Dana Porter, the P.R.I.D.E. program coordinator, agreed that a teenager’s phone poses special hazards to driving, especially texting while driving. Another problem the P.R.I.D.E. instructors noted is a limited understanding of Georgia’s laws by both parents and their teenagers. “Parents and teens just don’t fully understand the laws,” Porter said. “They might know a little bit, like the curfew requirement, but many do not know the passenger restrictions and other important laws that our program addresses.”“For instance, many parents and teens are aware that teen drivers are not allowed to have any passengers who are not immediate family during the first six months,” she said. “However, many people do not know that during the second six months, only one non-immediate family passenger is allowed, and after 12 months, only three non-family passengers are allowed.”She noted that after school lets out there are often cars packed with teens. If an SUV is loaded up with teenagers and a teenager is driving, “then they are violating the law,” she said.Besides a lack of knowledge about traffic laws, Jones added that many parents of soon-to-be drivers make common mistakes like not giving the teen their full attention on the road and not talking about all the costs involved in driving. “I’m not just talking about the monetary costs of things like insurance and gas,” she said, “but the costs of injuries and fatalities that also impact quality of life of all involved.”Jones noted that many parents don’t take their children out driving as often as they should. Although 40 hours is the minimum requirement for teens to get their license, “the more supervised practice a teen has, the safer he or she is behind the wheel,” she said.Martinek took her daughter driving as often as possible, and she was diligent in exposing Alyssa to different driving conditions, ranging from rain and snow to rush-hour traffic. “I also think it’s good for the parent to get in the car with their child after they get their license, just to check up on their driver ability,” Martinek said. “You can sometimes forget things after the test.”Although Martinek cannot help but worry when Alyssa is late getting home, she admitted that she is “more excited than nervous overall now that Alyssa can drive. She can take herself to places now.”“In terms of the value of the program, our evaluations indicate that we are definitely altering driving attitudes and behaviors for both parents and teens,” Jones said. “We are saving lives and reducing crashes, injuries and fatalities. One child who loses his or her life is one child too many.”Since the program started in 2003, approximately 9,000 teens, accompanied by at least one parent or guardian, have participated in P.R.I.D.E. There is no charge to participate in P.R.I.D.E., which is funded by grant support and operated by volunteer instructors.For more information about P.R.I.D.E., including classes in your area, go to www.ridesafegeorgia.org.
The FDA has a goal of reducing the overall noncompliance rate for each type of food establishment by 25% by 2010, using the 1998 survey as a baseline, according to the report. For example, in 1998, the overall noncompliance rate for all the risk variables in elementary schools was 20%; the FDA would like to reduce that to 15% by 2010. The agency plans to do a third nationwide survey in 2008. The new findings echo those of a similar survey conducted in 1998 and reported in 2000, according to the FDA. “The same risk factors and data items identified as problem areas in the 2000 report remain in need of priority attention,” the report says. “This indicates that industry and regulatory efforts to promote active managerial control of these risk factors must be strengthened.” Contaminated equipment was also common, according to the report. For example, failures in this category were observed in 21.9% of fast-food restaurants, 37.3% of full-service restaurants, 23.4% of delis, 24.4% of retail meat and poultry departments, 18.9% of hospitals, and 13.5% of elementary schools. For example, the FDA found failures to comply with handwashing guidelines in 73% of full-service restaurants and 34% of hospitals. Further, inspectors saw cases of noncompliance with guidelines for cleaning food-contact surfaces in 58% of retail deli departments and 25% of elementary schools. Within the general area of contaminated equipment, improper cleaning and sanitizing of food-contact surfaces was the most widespread specific problem. Noncompliance ranged from 25% in elementary schools to 35.2% in retail seafood departments, 37.2% in nursing homes, and 58% in deli departments. Sep 16, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – A nationwide survey by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests that risk factors for foodborne disease, such as inadequate handwashing by workers and keeping food at unsafe temperatures, are very common in the nation’s restaurants, retail stores, and institutional food services. Observations by FDA personnel at more than 900 food operations in 2003 showed that sizable percentages of them failed to comply with guidelines for food holding time and temperature, personal hygiene, and keeping equipment clean, according to a 200-page FDA report released this week. In the personal hygiene category, inadequate handwashing was the most common specific problem in all nine types of facilities, the report says. For personal hygiene overall, samples of the noncompliance rates included 31.2% for fast-food restaurants, 41.7% for full-service restaurants, 23.5% for deli departments, and 17.5% for hospitals. Team members gathered information on 42 food safety variables by directly observing facility operations and, in some cases, by talking with managers and workers. The variables—described in the FDA Food Code—were grouped into several risk factors, including improper holding time and temperature, poor personal hygiene, inadequate cooking time, contaminated equipment/prevention of contamination, food from unsafe sources, and “other/chemical” hazards. Failure to heed guidelines for food holding times and temperatures appears to be the most common problem noted in the report. The FDA found problems of this kind in 63.8% of full-service restaurants, 64.4% of delis, 41.7% of fast-food restaurants, and 40.3% of hospitals. The most common specific problems were “improper cold holding of potentially hazardous food” (for example, not storing food at 41ºF or lower) and failure to date-mark refrigerated ready-to-eat foods after 24 hours. See also: Inadequate cooking time was a less common problem than most of the others, the FDA says. Inspectors reported it, for example, in 15.8% of full-service restaurants and 6.3% of hospitals. The use of food from unsafe sources was also reported relatively infrequently. The FDA survey team visited nine types of food establishments: fast-food and full-service restaurants; hospitals, nursing homes, and elementary schools; and retail deli, meat and poultry, seafood, and produce departments. The report notes that the ideal measure of food safety performance in the foodservice industry would be the actual level of foodborne illness. But because foodborne illness is “grossly underreported,” illness data are an unreliable indicator. Thus the FDA chose to assess foodborne disease risk factors, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The FDA compared food safety data from establishments that had a certified food protection manager from a recognized program with data from establishments that lacked such a manager. The comparison suggests that having a certified manager improves the control of certain risk factors, especially poor personal hygiene. This effect was seen most clearly in restaurants, meat and poultry departments, and produce departments, the report says. “FDA Report on the Occurrence of Foodborne Illness Risk Factors in Selected Institutional Foodservice, Restaurant, and Retail Food Store Facility Types (2004)”