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Genetics researcher honored
September 7, 1998

Stephen C. Maxson, professor of psychology and biobehavioral sciences, has been honored with a lifetime achievement award for his work on the Y chromosome and aggression in mice.

Maxson, who has been at UConn since 1969, received the 1998 Dobzhansky Award from the Behavior Genetics Association, an international scientific society, for his 30-year career. His work has had an international impact and has recently been recognized as highly relevant to non-hormonal theories of sex differences in the brain and behavior of mammals.

Maxson's research has been dedicated to mapping the genes that influence aggressive behaviors in mice. His studies have led him to the mouse Y chromosome, which recently has been recognized as affecting not only testicular development but also behaviors including aggression, mating and exploratory activity. It might also be involved in sex differences for some behaviors, at least of mice, Maxson says.

The mouse is a simple, well-understood animal whose reproduction cycle is very short, enabling efficient study of gene effects, he says. The mouse, many of whose genes have already been mapped, takes 18 days from conception to birth. After about two months, the mother is ready to reproduce again.

"Do the genes that influence mouse aggression also do so in humans? We cannot make that big of a leap just yet," Maxson says. "But this research on the genetics of aggressive behaviors in mice provides some idea of what the right questions are for investigating genetic and environmental factors in the development of social behaviors of other mammals, including humans."

The award, created in 1977, is named after Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the great evolutionary biologists and geneticists of this century and first president of the Behavior Genetics Association. The award was presented to Maxson in Stockholm this summer.

Renu Aldrich