TEMPE, Ariz. Though you may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, ASU researchers have found that evolution may have taught old genes new tricks in the development of social behavior in honeybees.
The genetic basis of social behavior is being deciphered through the efforts of ASU researchers and their work with the honeybee, Apis mellifera. The recently completed honeybee genome sequence is aiding that effort by providing DNA sequences of genes that may be involved in social behavior, according to ASU assistant professor Gro Amdam.
Amdam and ASU professor Robert Page, founding director of ASU's School of Life Sciences, were part of a consortium of researchers that sequenced and analyzed the honeybee genome. The results are reported in this week's issue of Nature (Oct. 26), in the article, "Insights into social insects from the genome of the honeybee Apis mellifera."
Amdam explained that the honeybee is a particularly well-suited organism for studying the genetic basis and evolution of social behavior. "As first determined by Page, the genetic recombination rate in Apis mellifera is the highest of all animals, and 10 times greater that that of flies or humans," Amdam said.
The scientists have used the high recombination rate, a natural process involving the shuffling of DNA, to their advantage in mapping behavior precisely to genome regions. Essentially, the more frequently genes are "shuffled around" in each generation of honeybee, the smaller the identified region and the better chance the researchers have of identifying specific genes related to behavior.
"An early expectation in the sequencing project was that we would find many new genes responsible for social behavior in the honeybee genome," Amdam said. "However, we didn't find much diversification of such social genes and, in fact, the number of honeybee genes overall was smaller than in the genome of the fly, which has a solitary lifestyle."