can bee behavior be in the genes?

Do you blame your genes for what you do? A study in the October 10 issue of Science says that honeybees should. An individual bee’s occupation can be predicted by knowing what genes are active in its brain. “We have discovered a clear molecular signature in the bee brain that is robustly associated with behavior,” principle researcher Gene Robinson of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign said in a press release. Honeybees normally live about six weeks. When they first mature, they are nurses who help care for the young in the hive. Within a few weeks, however, they become foragers, seeking nectar and pollen. The researchers measured gene activity in adult bee brains and were able to identify genetic profiles that could be used to correctly classify a bee as a nurse or a forager. Analyzing about 5,500 honeybee genes, the researchers found that 39 percent of the studied genes were turned on and off to make a nurse become a forager. There are usually many steps between genes and behavior, and to find them so closely linked is surprising.

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 10/14/2003.
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