Article in the news: Conflict between the sexes maintains diversity in brain hormones

Article by the University of Jyväskylä highlighting Dr. Mokkonen’s work:

Men are from mars and women are from venus? Whiles this stereotype is extreme and controversial, gender differences in behaviour nonetheless are common in nature. Much variation in animal, including human, behaviour is regulated by expression of hormones and their receptors in brains.

For some animals, differences in the expression of vasopressin receptor 1a (Avpr1a) and oxytocin receptor (Oxtr) generates diversity in social and sexual behaviour; in humans, at the gene for Avpr1a have been associated with . What is not clear, however, is why should the behaviour of individuals differ? And, if one type of behaviour is beneficial then why don’t all individuals express that ?

Displaying baby_voles.jpg
Newborn bank vole (Myodes glareolus)

A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) asks the question: what mechanisms might maintain genetic differences in Avpr1a and Oxtr? The authors determined how genetic differences at these two genes associated with affected the reproductive success (how many pups were born) of a small rodent, the bank vole Myodes glareolus.

The main result of the study was that the ‘beneficial’ genetic variants (alleles) at the vasopressin and oxytocin receptor genes depend on gender: in other word, alleles that are beneficial to the of females are detrimental to success of males, and vice versa – this apparent conflict of interest between sexes is termed ‘sexually antagonistic selection’. Interestingly, the pattern of sexual conflict depended upon the social environment (the density of individuals). Changes in density of individuals, in space and time, often occur in nature, and this might be another important mechanism maintaining genetic and behavioural variation.

In the case of vasopressin and oxytocin receptors, there is a constant ‘battle’ to find a genetic optima, with diversity is maintained as no single optimal genetic variant (allele) for both sexes exits, and this is further complicated by environment change! While male and female bank voles do not come from different planets, they illustrate a potential ‘genetic battle’ that can happen as the sexes share the same genome but can nonetheless favour different behaviors.

Many behaviours are regulated by vasopressin and in other mammals and in humans. The new research raises an interesting question: is the evolution of our brains also regulated by a conflict between sexes?

Explore further: The sexual tug-of-war — a genomic view

More information: Eija Lonn et al. Balancing selection maintains polymorphisms at neurogenetic loci in field experiments, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1621228114

Read more at:

Seminar: Donald Maier, Should Biodiversity and Nature Have to Earn Their Keep?

The Mooers Lab will be hosting Dr. Donald Maier, a nature values philosopher who will be giving the Biological Sciences departmental seminar:

“Should Biodiversity and Nature Have to Earn Their Keep? What It Means to Bring Environmental Goods into the Marketplace”
Wed. Nov. 16, 3:30-4:45 pm
South Sciences Building (MBB department),  SSB7172

Donald Maier is the author of “What’s So Good about Biodiversity?” (Springer, 2012), the first book to comprehensively challenge prevailing views about biodiversity and its value.

In the Press: Evolutionary perspectives on Viking raids

Did Vikings risk raids for wealth, status, and love?  [Image: Public domain]
Crawford Lab members Ben Raffield and Dr. Mark Collard are the authors of a new paper that gives an evolutionary anthropological perspective on the infamous Viking raids of the Late Iron Age.

The press has picked up on the story, and it is has been mentioned on several websites of note:
Telegraph: “Viking Raiders were only trying to win their future wives’ hearts”.
The Daily Mail:  Bloodthirsty pillagers? No, the Vikings who invaded Britain 1,000 years ago were on a mission of love because rich polygamists back home were marrying all the women
LiveScienceThe Real Reason for Viking Raids: Shortage of Eligible Women? Vikings May Have Risked Raids for “Wealth and Status”

The full article “Male-biased operational sex ratios and the Viking phenomenon: an evolutionary anthropological perspective on Late Iron Age Scandinavian raiding”  appears in the journal Evolution & Human Behaviour.

Award helps student spread her wings at Smithsonian Institute

Jayme Lewthwaite, Crawford Lab member, at the Smithsonian

October 26, 2016
By Ian Bryce

Jayme Lewthwaite examines hundreds of dead butterflies every day.
Far from a morbid curiosity, Lewthwaite, a doctoral student studying biological sciences at Simon Fraser University, is studying how climate change is shifting the habitat range of Canadian butterflies northwards. This summer, she received a 2016 Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA) to conduct research at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum for Natural History in Washington D.C.


GIRTA is an annual award that provides support to master’s and doctoral students who must travel in order to undertake research for their degrees.

The Smithsonian Natural History Museum contains thousands of shelves with cases of preserved butterfly specimens—including the date and location they were found.

With around 300 butterfly species in Canada, Lewthwaite is creating a database tracking their historic range. By mapping both their past and present habitat ranges, she can determine how far north they have shifted over time.

Initially, Lewthwaite thought her research would take around one month. Yet upon seeing the Smithsonian’s extensive collection, she quickly realized she would require more time. Currently, she has documented 10,000 butterflies but has examined twice as many.

Her research is not a flight of fancy. She says that, due to butterflies’ short lifespans and their sensitivity to cold environments, researchers predict they can see a difference faster in their responses to changing climate conditions compared to other animals’ reactions.

“They bear the flag for other species that aren’t as attractive but are still important to ecosystems and are also affected by climate change,” says Lewthwaite.

She says the award has helped her temporarily move to Washington to complete her research. She arrived in Washington D.C. in June and expects to return to Vancouver in December to complete her thesis.”

Seminar: Isotope Ecology of Ancient Humans

Dr. Michael Richards, FSA, FRSC Department of Archaeology, SFU


A joint BISC-HESP seminar

Wednesday November 2 3:30 PM IRMACS Theatre

“My research interests include the evolution of human diets over time, especially the diets of Neanderthals and early modern humans, and the spread and adoption of agriculture in Eurasia. Current research includes developing new isotope systems for dietary and migration studies, using isotope analysis to explore and catalogue the range and nature of human dietary adaptations throughout the Holocene, and developing and applying isotope analysis in forensics.”


Job Posting: SFU iReceptor Research Project Data Curator

October 26, 2016

iReceptor is a distributed data management system and scientific gateway for mining “Next Generation” sequence data from immune responses.

An exciting opportunity to work with state-of-the-art, big-data research in immunogenetics is currently available with the iReceptor team at Simon Fraser University. This opportunity is available for current or past students of health-science or biomedical research programs. An understanding of immunology is preferred and would be a positive for applicants.

The job entails (i) performing literature searches and reading scientific literature on the sequencing of B-cell/antibody- and T-cell-receptor repertoires, (ii) documenting metadata characterizing the acquisition and processing of samples for each study, and (iii) stating the research goals of each paper. Additionally, the data curator will run annotation tools to process publicly available sequence datasets and curate these in an iReceptor database of immune receptor repertoires. The data curator will be provided assistance in learning what is needed to complete these tasks. S/he will work with senior scientists with expertise in evolutionary genetics and immunology, and with a bioinformatics graduate student.

This is a great opportunity to learn basic bioinformatic skills and to work with state-of-the-art bioinformatics as applied to immunogenetics. This field is rapidly expanding with applications in cancer immunotherapy and treatment of autoimmune and infectious diseases.

Minimal requirements

  • Skill in reading and understanding the biomedical literature
  • Course work in and a broad knowledge of molecular biology and immunology
  • Basic computational proficiency and some experience working with large data sets.


  • BSc in biology, molecular biology, life sciences or computer science
  • Experience with bioinformatics tools
  • Experience in working with biological data
  • Comfortable working with command-line tools

Send resume and short description of how your experience could contribute to this effort to:

Felix Breden
Department of Biological Sciences
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, Canada V5A 1S6