New genome technology will underlie the BeeSpace efforts in biology and informatics research.
"In biology research, we will develop the first complete analysis of the normal behavior of an animal at the level of gene expression," said Gene E. Robinson, professor of entomology. Robinson, the G.W. Arends Professor of Integrative Biology and director of the Neuroscience Program at Illinois, is one of six scientists with leading roles in BeeSpace. Robinson also is coordinating the honey-bee genome project, which began in 2002, with sequencers at the Human Genome Sequencing Center at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
"Honey bees are complex social animals with highly flexible behavior," he said. "They live in the equivalent of an urban environment where much of their social behavior is in response to environmental conditions."
A BeeSpace team led by Robinson will generate a molecular signature of all the major roles performed by honey bees. "To do this," he said, "we will generate profiles of gene expression that occurs in the brain of individuals that are captured in the very act of performing their normal activities."
While the experimental model is an insect, the researchers will use broad categories of social roles that could potentially apply to higher organisms, including humans. To further support comparisons across organisms, genes whose expressions are particularly significant for social behavior will be localized within the bee brain. Susan Fahrbach, a long-time professor of entomology at Illinois who now is the Reynolds Professor of Developmental Neuroscience at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, will handle the neuroanatomy. She also will use BeeSpace in undergraduate education.