Chickens’ genes could hold the answer to anxiety in humans

According to a new study conducted by researchers at Linkoping University in Sweden, the genes of domesticated chickens, which show less anxiety than their wild counterparts (the red junglefowl), could shed light on why humans can suffer from anxiety.

After thousands of years of breeding, the domestic chicken displays much less anxiety than wild chickens, as identified by the researchers after carrying out tests.

They put animals from both groups in an area they had never seen before, to measure the scale of reactions.

While the wild subjects either stood still due to fear, or else ran around the new area’s perimeter, domestic chickens moved at a much slower pace and explored their unfamiliar surroundings.

Dr Dominic Wright, leader of the study, said: “By necessity, human genetic studies of behaviour often focus only on susceptibility to a mental health disorder.

“But what about more subtle differences in behaviour? For example, what makes one person a little more anxious than others? And what makes someone else a little bolder?

“Animal models like the chicken allow us to address challenging questions like these using controlled breeding experiments.”

After crossing white leghorn chickens with red junglefowl, in order to create a hybrid species which was then subjected to the same test, researchers had the ability to identify the genes that were behind anxious behaviour.

They did this by using genetic sequencing, and it is hoped that their findings will be able to help research concerned with human anxiety, to see how it can be treated.

More information about the study is available in the journal Genetics.

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