Honey bee genome holds clues to social behavior

October 23, 2006

By studying the humble honey bee, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have come a step closer to understanding the molecular basis of social behavior in humans.

"The honey bee (Apis millifera) has been called a model system for social behavior," said Saurabh (pronounced SAW-rub) Sinha, a professor of computer science and an affiliate of the university's Institute for Genomic Biology. Using that model system, Sinha led a team that searched the honey bee genome for clues for social cues – a form of bee pressure that can cause bees to change jobs in response to needs of the hive.

"We want to learn how the honey bee society influences behavior in individual honey bees," said Sinha, who is lead author of a paper that will be posted online this week ahead of regular publication by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "By studying the social regulation of gene expression, we hope to extrapolate the biology to humans."

Adult worker bees perform a number of tasks in the hive when they are young, such as caring for eggs and larvae, and then shift to foraging for nectar and pollen as they age. However, if the hive has a shortage of foragers, some of the young nurse bees will switch jobs and become foragers.

The job transition, whether triggered by age or social cues, involves changes in thousands of genes in the honey bee brain; some genes turn on, while others turn off.

Genes are switched on and off by short strings of DNA that lie close to the gene. The strings serve as binding sites for particular molecules, called transcription factors. For example, when the correct transcription factor latches into the binding site, the gene may be switched on. If the transcription factor breaks away from the binding site, the gene is switched off.

To search for genes that might play a role in social behavior, Sinha and his colleagues used the newly sequenced honey bee genome to scan the binding sites of transcription factors known to function in the development of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) from a single cell to an adult.

A computer algorithm written by the researchers scanned nearly 3,000 genes. Statistical techniques were then used to investigate whether particular transcription factors correlated with genes that were differentially expressed (turned on or off) between nurse bees and foragers.

"We found five different transcription factors that showed a statistically significant correlation with socially regulated genes," Sinha said. "It appears that genes involved in nervous-system development in fruit flies are re-used by nature for behavioral functions in adult honey bees."

Their findings, Sinha said, suggest that honey bees will be useful in elucidating the mechanisms by which social factors regulate gene expression in brains, including those of humans.

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Explore further: Conflict among honey bee genes supports theory of altruism

Related Stories

Conflict among honey bee genes supports theory of altruism

January 11, 2016
Using modern genetic approaches, a team of researchers has provided strong support for the long-standing, but hotly debated, evolutionary theory of kin selection, which suggests that altruistic behavior occurs as a way to ...

Researchers find high-fructose corn syrup may be tied to worldwide collapse of bee colonies

April 30, 2013
(Phys.org) —A team of entomologists from the University of Illinois has found a possible link between the practice of feeding commercial honeybees high-fructose corn syrup and the collapse of honeybee colonies around the ...

Different species share a 'genetic toolkit' for behavioral traits, study finds

December 1, 2014
The house mouse, stickleback fish and honey bee appear to have little in common, but at the genetic level these creatures respond in strikingly similar ways to danger, researchers report. When any of these animals confronts ...

Bee research sheds light on human sweet perception, metabolic disorders

June 29, 2012
Scientists at Arizona State University have discovered that honey bees may teach us about basic connections between taste perception and metabolic disorders in humans.

Common crop chemical leaves bees susceptible to deadly viruses

January 16, 2017
A chemical that is thought to be safe and is, therefore, widely used on crops—such as almonds, wine grapes and tree fruits—to boost the performance of pesticides, makes honey bee larvae significantly more susceptible ...

Wasps use ancient aggression genes to create social groups

February 10, 2014
Aggression-causing genes appeared early in animal evolution and have maintained their roles for millions of years and across many species, even though animal aggression today varies widely from territorial fighting to setting ...

Recommended for you

Peers' genes may help friends stay in school, new study finds

January 18, 2018
While there's scientific evidence to suggest that your genes have something to do with how far you'll go in school, new research by a team from Stanford and elsewhere says the DNA of your classmates also plays a role.

Two new breast cancer genes emerge from Lynch syndrome gene study

January 18, 2018
Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian have identified two new breast cancer genes. Having one of the genes—MSH6 and PMS2—approximately doubles a woman's risk of developing breast ...

A centuries-old math equation used to solve a modern-day genetics challenge

January 18, 2018
Researchers developed a new mathematical tool to validate and improve methods used by medical professionals to interpret results from clinical genetic tests. The work was published this month in Genetics in Medicine.

Can mice really mirror humans when it comes to cancer?

January 18, 2018
A new Michigan State University study is helping to answer a pressing question among scientists of just how close mice are to people when it comes to researching cancer.

Group recreates DNA of man who died in 1827 despite having no body to work with

January 16, 2018
An international team of researchers led by a group with deCODE Genetics, a biopharmaceutical company in Iceland, has partly recreated the DNA of a man who died in 1827, despite having no body to take tissue samples from. ...

Epigenetics study helps focus search for autism risk factors

January 16, 2018
Scientists have long tried to pin down the causes of autism spectrum disorder. Recent studies have expanded the search for genetic links from identifying genes toward epigenetics, the study of factors that control gene expression ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.