Genetic 'remix' key to evolution of bee behavior

Oct 15, 2012
A honey bee robs a comb. Photo by Lynn Ketchum

Worker bees have become a highly skilled and specialized work force because the genes that determine their behaviour are shuffled frequently, helping natural selection to build a better bee, research from York University suggests.

The study, to be published October 15 in PNAS (), sheds light on how – who are sterile – evolved charismatic and cooperative such as nursing young bees, collecting food for the colony, defending it against intruders, and dancing to communicate the location of profitable flowers to nestmates.

When York University researchers examined the genome, they discovered that the genes associated with worker behaviour were found in areas of the genome that have the highest rate of recombination. Recombination represents a shuffling of the genetic deck: recombination in the of a queen shuffles the chromosomes she inherited from her parents. As a result, the queen's female offspring are likely to inherit mosaic with different combinations of mutations, says Biology Professor Amro Zayed, whose lab conducted the research.

Recombination allows to act on specific mutations without regard to neighbouring mutations.

"If I'm a good rower in a dragon boat with 49 poor rowers, I am going to lose all of my races. But if teams were shuffled after every race, I'll likely have a better chance of winning. I may even get to be in a boat with 49 good rowers just like myself," says Zayed. "The same thing happens with mutations on a chromosome. Recombination makes the evolutionary fate of mutations independent of their surrounding neighbours, which enhances the process of natural selection.".

The team believes that they have solved one of the mysteries of the honey bee's genome, says postdoctoral research associate Clement Kent, lead author on the study.

"The honey bee has the highest rates of recombination in animals – ten times higher than humans. Our study shows that this high degree of genetic shuffling has turned on the evolutionary faucet in parts of the bee genome responsible for orchestrating worker behaviour," says Kent. "This can allow natural selection to increase the fitness of honey bee colonies, which live or die based on how well their workers 'behave'."

Explore further: Alternate mechanism of species formation picks up support, thanks to a South American ant

More information: "Recombination is associated with the evolution of genome structure and worker behavior in honey bees", PNAS, 2012.

Related Stories

Honey bee chemoreceptors found for smell and taste

Oct 25, 2006

Honey bees have a much better sense of smell than fruit flies or mosquitoes, but a much worse sense of taste, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Honey bee genome holds clues to social behavior

Oct 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.

Recommended for you

Pollen on birds shows feeding grounds

11 minutes ago

Encrusted pollen on migrating birds' heads can shed light on where they've taken a break from migration to refuel, scientists say.

Calcium and reproduction go together

5 hours ago

Everyone's heard of the birds and the bees. But that old expression leaves out the flowers that are being fertilized. The fertilization process for flowering plants is particularly complex and requires extensive communication ...

User comments : 0