Animals & Wildlife Magazine

New Study Reveals the Biological, Genetic Basis for a Honeybee’s Role in the Hive

By Periscope @periscopepost

Hive mentality? New study sheds light on honeycomb behavior. Hive mentality? New study sheds light on honeycomb behavior.

The background

New research published in the journal Nature Neuroscience has revealed the surprising biology behind the division of labor in honeybee hives. The study shows that reversible epigenetic changes (variations that work “above” the underlying DNA sequence) dictate bees’ behavior and their roles within the hive as “foragers” or “nurses”. The research points to a new understanding of the way that the chemical “tagging” of DNA can affect the behavior of living organisms.

Worker bees’ flexible job-sharing corresponds to their biology

A proportion of bee larvae grow up to become egg-laying queens, while the remainder become workers. These bees follow a simple division of labour: some remain in the hive as ‘nurses’ while others are ‘foragers’ and roam around searching for pollen and nectar. As Ian Sample of the Guardian noted, “the entire honeybee workforce are genetically identical sisters”, but the new research reveals that chemical tagging working on an epigenetic level varies according to each bee’s role as a nurse or forager. Furthermore, this tagging can change to bring about a variation in the division of labour, triggering a change in an individual bee’s role .

The new study was led by Andrew Feinberg of John Hopkins University, Baltimore and Gro Amdam of Arizona State University, Tempe. It saw a team of researchers successfully encourage forager bees to take on the role of their nurse counterparts by creating a deliberate shortage of nurses in the hive. Not only did the bees’ behavior change, but also the methylation patterns (the existence of chemicals that regulate certain aspects of the genetic sequence) found in their brain cells.

Important for our understanding of bees – and all living organisms 

News Track India  reported that these findings represent “the first evidence that complex, reversible behavioural patterns…are linked to reversible chemical tags on genes” making it a significant piece of research far beyond the specific study of bees. Indeed, Feinberg has argued that new insights into epigenetics could better scientists’ understanding of human biology. Quoted in the Guardian he suggested that “similar mechanisms must apply” in humans (although he helpfully assured the public that he was “not saying we’re like big bees”).  Nicky Guttridge of Nature  indicated that research into epigenetics may improve our understanding of human behavior in areas as diverse as “addiction, learning and memory”.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog