Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Genetic Study Offers Insight into the Social Life of Bees

Most people have trouble telling them apart, but bumble bees, honey bees, stingless bees and solitary bees have home lives that are as different from one another as a monarch’s palace is from a hippy commune or a hermit’s cabin in the woods. A new study of these bees offers a first look at the genetic underpinnings of their differences in lifestyle.

The study focuses on the evolution of “eusociality,” a system of collective living in which most members of a female-centric colony forego their reproductive rights and instead devote themselves to specialized tasks – such as hunting for food, defending the nest or caring for the young – that enhance the survival of the group. The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Eusociality is a rarity in the animal world, said Gene Robinson, a University of Illinois entomology professor and the director of the Institute for Genomic Biology, who led the study. Ants, termites, some bees and wasps, a few other arthropods and a couple of mole rat species are the only animals known to be eusocial.

Among bees, there are the “highly eusocial” honey bees and stingless bees, with a caste of sterile workers and a queen that functions primarily as a “giant, egg-laying machine,” Robinson said. And there are other, so-called “primitively eusocial” insects, usually involving a single mom who starts a nest from scratch and then, once she has raised enough workers, “kicks back and becomes a queen,” he said.

Illinois entomology professor Sydney Cameron, a collaborator on the study and a social insect evolution expert, dislikes the term “primitively eusocial” because it suggests that these bees are on their way to becoming more like stingless bees or honey bees. Eusociality is not a progressive evolution from the “primitive” to the “advanced” stage, she said.

“They’re not striving to become highly eusocial,” Cameron said. “They don’t say to themselves, ‘If only I could become a honey bee!’ ”

“People talk about the evolution of eusociality,” Robinson said. “But we want to emphasize that these were independent evolutionary events. And we wanted to trace the independent stories of each.”

To accomplish this, the researchers worked with Roche Diagnostic Corp. to sequence active genes (those transcribed for translation into proteins) in nine species of bees representing every lifestyle from the solitary leaf-cutter bee, Megachile rotundata, to the highly eusocial dwarf honey bee, Apis florea. Then Illinois crop sciences professor and co-author Matt Hudson used the only available bee genome, that of the honey bee, Apis mellifera, as a guide to help assemble and identify the sequenced genes in the other species, and the team looked for patterns of genetic change that coincided with the evolution of the differing social systems.

“Are there genes that are unique to the primitively eusocial bees that aren’t found in the highly eusocial bees?” Cameron said. “Or if you lump all the eusocial bees together, are there unique genes that unite those groups compared to the solitaries?”

The analysis did find significant differences in gene sequence between the eusocial and solitary bees. The researchers also saw patterns of genetic change unique to either the highly eusocial or primitively eusocial bees. The frequency and pattern of these changes in gene sequence suggest “signatures of accelerated evolution” specific to each type of eusociality, and to eusociality in general, the researchers reported.

“What we find is that there are some genes that show signatures of selection across the different independent evolutions (of eusocial bees),” Robinson said. “They might be representatives of the ‘gotta have it’ genes if you’re going to evolve eusociality. But others are more lineage-specific.”

This study was made possible with a one-gigabyte sequencing grant from 454 Life Sciences (Roche Diagnostics Corp.) by way of the Roche 1GB contest. The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health also supported the research.

The study team also included researchers from Cornell University and from the Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology and the Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois.

Diana Yates | University of Illinois
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>