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Brain gene expression patterns predict behavior of individual honey bees

An unusual study that involved bar coding and tracking the behavior of thousands of individual honey bees in six queenless bee hives and analyzing gene expression in their brains offers new insights into how gene regulation contributes to social behavior. The study, reported in the journal eLife, reveals that the activity profile of regulator genes known as transcription factors in the brain strongly correlates with the behavior of honey bees, the researchers said. A single transcription factor can induce – or reduce – the expression of dozens of other genes.

“If the queen in a colony dies and the workers fail to rear a replacement queen, some worker bees activate their ovaries and begin to lay eggs,” said Beryl Jones, a former graduate student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who led the study with entomology professor Gene Robinson, the director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the U. of I.; and Sriram Chandrasekaran, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan. Jones is a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University.

“This is an example of ‘behavioral plasticity,’ the ability to change behavior in response to the environment,” Jones said. “We know that behavioral plasticity is influenced by the activity of genes in the brain, but we do not know how genes in the brain work together to regulate these behavioral differences.”

Read the full article at the Illinois News Bureau

Publication Date: 12/22/2020
Photo credits: Michael B. Vincent
Editor: Diana Yates