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Group genomics drive aggression in honey bees

Researchers often study the genomes of individual organisms to try to tease out the relationship between genes and behavior. A new study of Africanized honey bees reveals, however, that the genetic inheritance of individual bees has little influence on their propensity for aggression. Instead, the genomic traits of the hive as a whole are strongly associated with how fiercely its soldiers attack.

The findings are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We’ve always thought that the most significant aspects of an organism’s behavior are driven, at least in part, by its own genetic endowment and not the genomics of its society,” said Matthew Hudson, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor of bioinformatics in the department of crop sciences who led the research with Gene Robinson, an entomology professor and the director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the U. of I. “This is a signal that there may be more to the genetics of behavior as a whole than we’ve been thinking about.”

The researchers focused on a unique population of gentle Africanized honey bees in Puerto Rico, which have evolved to become more docile than Africanized bees anywhere else in the world.

“We wanted to know which parts of the genome are responsible for gentle behavior versus aggressive behavior,” Hudson said. “And because there’s quite a bit of variation in aggression among these bees, they are an ideal population to study.”

Read the full article at the Illinois News Bureau

Publication Date: 07/07/2020
Photo credits: Manuel A. Giannoni-Guzman
Editor: Diana Yates