Altruism, a powerful force and human nature, is at the center of the most fundamental questions concerning our evolutionary change, social relations, and the structures of our society. Balances between altruistic and selfish tendencies are vital to human cooperation and flourishing. However, given the complexity of human cognitive and physiological behaviors, the scientific basis of altruism is still poorly understood. In both human and mammals, parental caring, particularly that from mothers, represents a heritable and essential altruistic trait, being costly for parents but extremely beneficial to the survival and development of offspring.
This project will focus on the genetic and neuronal regulations of altruism, analyze a previously uncharacterized neural circuit in the brain of mammals with a battery of advanced genetic tools, and investigate the genes, neural networks, and biological factors that regulate maternal parental behaviors and that balance the tradeoffs between internal needs and giving. The proposed study will likely provide an innovative model system to initiate mechanistic research on altruism and greatly expand our knowledge on both the genetics and evolution of this essential human nature.