The findings offer a new window on the inner life of the honey bee hive, which once was viewed as a highly regimented colony of seemingly interchangeable workers taking on a few specific roles (nurse or forager, for example) to serve their queen.
Now it appears that individual honey bees actually differ in their desire or willingness to perform particular tasks, said University of Illinois entomology professor and Institute for Genomic Biology director Gene Robinson, who led the study. These differences may be due, in part, to variability in the bees’ personalities, he said.
“In humans, differences in novelty-seeking are a component of personality,” he said. “Could insects also have personalities?”
These bees, called nest scouts, are on average 3.4 times more likely than their peers to also become food scouts, the researchers found.
“There is a gold standard for personality research and that is if you show the same tendency in different contexts, then that can be called a personality trait,” Robinson said, who also is affiliated with the Neuroscience Program at Illinois. Not only do certain bees exhibit signs of novelty-seeking, he said, but their willingness or eagerness to “go the extra mile” can be vital to the life of the hive.
The researchers wanted to determine the molecular basis for these differences in honey bee behavior. They used whole-genome microarray analysis to look for differences in the activity of thousands of genes in the brains of scouts and non-scouts.
“People are trying to understand what is the basis of novelty-seeking behavior in humans and in animals,” Robinson said. “And a lot of the thinking has to do with the relationship between how the (brain’s) reward system is engaged in response to some experience.”
The researchers found thousands of distinct differences in gene activity in the brains of scouting and non-scouting bees.“We expected to find some, but the magnitude of the differences was surprising given that both scouts and non-scouts are foragers,” Robinson said.
Among the many differentially expressed genes were several related to catecholamine, glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) signaling, and the researchers zeroed in on these because they are involved in regulating novelty-seeking and responding to reward in vertebrates.To test whether the changes in brain signaling caused the novelty-seeking, the researchers subjected groups of bees to treatments that would increase or inhibit these chemicals in the brain. Two treatments (with glutamate and octopamine) increased scouting in bees that had not scouted before. Blocking dopamine signaling decreased scouting behavior, the researchers found.
“Our results say that novelty-seeking in humans and other vertebrates has parallels in an insect,” Robinson said. “One can see the same sort of consistent behavioral differences and molecular underpinnings.”
The findings also suggest that insects, humans and other animals made use of the same genetic “toolkit” in the evolution of behavior, Robinson said. The tools in the toolkit – genes encoding certain molecular pathways – may play a role in the same types of behaviors, but each species has adapted them in its own, distinctive way.“It looks like the same molecular pathways have been engaged repeatedly in evolution to give rise to individual differences in novelty-seeking,” he said.
Collaborators on this study included researchers from Wellesley College and Cornell University.Editor’s notes: To reach Gene Robinson, call 217-202-9130;
Diana Yates | University of Illinois
Cryo-electron microscopy achieves unprecedented resolution using new computational methods
24.03.2017 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
How cheetahs stay fit and healthy
24.03.2017 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy