Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Genetic study offers insight into the social lives of bees

Date:
April 19, 2011
Source:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Summary:
Most people have trouble telling them apart, but bumble bees, honey bees, stingless bees and solitary bees have home lives that are as different from one another as a monarch's palace is from a hippie commune or a hermit's cabin in the woods. A new study of these bees offers a first look at the genetic underpinnings of their differences in lifestyle.

A new study found significant differences in gene sequence between 10 species of eusocial (red and blue) and non-eusocial (yellow) bees. The researchers also saw patterns of genetic change unique to either the highly (red) or primitively (blue) eusocial bees. The bees used in the study were: Frieseomelitta varia, Melipona quadrifasciata (pictured: Melipona eburnea), Apis florea, Apis mellifera, Exoneura robusta (pictured: Exoneura angophorae), Eulaema nigrita (pictured: Eulaema meriana), Euglossa cordata (pictured: Euglossa sp.), Megachile rotundata, Bombus impatiens, Bombus terrestris.
Credit: Photos provided by (clockwise from top left): Claus Rasmussen; Claus Rasmussen; Zachary Huang; Zachary Huang; Michael Schwarz; Edward Ross; Benjamin Bembé; Theresa Pitts-Singer, USDA; James Whitfield; James Whitfield.

Most people have trouble telling them apart, but bumble bees, honey bees, stingless bees and solitary bees have home lives that are as different from one another as a monarch's palace is from a hippie commune or a hermit's cabin in the woods. A new study of these bees offers a first look at the genetic underpinnings of their differences in lifestyle.

The study focuses on the evolution of "eusociality," a system of collective living in which most members of a female-centric colony forego their reproductive rights and instead devote themselves to specialized tasks -- such as hunting for food, defending the nest or caring for the young -- that enhance the survival of the group. The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Eusociality is a rarity in the animal world, said Gene Robinson, a University of Illinois entomology professor and the director of the Institute for Genomic Biology, who led the study. Ants, termites, some bees and wasps, a few other arthropods and a couple of mole rat species are the only animals known to be eusocial.

Among bees, there are the "highly eusocial" honey bees and stingless bees, with a caste of sterile workers and a queen that functions primarily as a "giant, egg-laying machine," Robinson said. And there are other, so-called "primitively eusocial" insects, usually involving a single mom who starts a nest from scratch and then, once she has raised enough workers, "kicks back and becomes a queen," he said.

Illinois entomology professor Sydney Cameron, a collaborator on the study and a social insect evolution expert, dislikes the term "primitively eusocial" because it suggests that these bees are on their way to becoming more like stingless bees or honey bees. Eusociality is not a progressive evolution from the "primitive" to the "advanced" stage, she said.

"They're not striving to become highly eusocial," Cameron said. "They don't say to themselves, 'If only I could become a honey bee!' "

"People talk about the evolution of eusociality," Robinson said. "But we want to emphasize that these were independent evolutionary events. And we wanted to trace the independent stories of each."

To accomplish this, the researchers worked with Roche Diagnostic Corp. to sequence active genes (those transcribed for translation into proteins) in nine species of bees representing every lifestyle from the solitary leaf-cutter bee, Megachile rotundata, to the highly eusocial dwarf honey bee, Apis florea. Then Illinois crop sciences professor and co-author Matt Hudson used the only available bee genome, that of the honey bee, Apis mellifera, as a guide to help assemble and identify the sequenced genes in the other species, and the team looked for patterns of genetic change that coincided with the evolution of the differing social systems.

"Are there genes that are unique to the primitively eusocial bees that aren't found in the highly eusocial bees?" Cameron said. "Or if you lump all the eusocial bees together, are there unique genes that unite those groups compared to the solitaries?"

The analysis did find significant differences in gene sequence between the eusocial and solitary bees. The researchers also saw patterns of genetic change unique to either the highly eusocial or primitively eusocial bees. The frequency and pattern of these changes in gene sequence suggest "signatures of accelerated evolution" specific to each type of eusociality, and to eusociality in general, the researchers reported.

"What we find is that there are some genes that show signatures of selection across the different independent evolutions (of eusocial bees)," Robinson said. "They might be representatives of the 'gotta have it' genes if you're going to evolve eusociality. But others are more lineage-specific."

This study was made possible with a one-gigabyte sequencing grant from 454 Life Sciences (Roche Diagnostics Corp.) by way of the Roche 1GB contest. The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health also supported the research.

The study team also included researchers from Cornell University and from the Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology and the Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. S. Hollis Woodard, Brielle J. Fischman, Aarti Venkat, Matt E. Hudson, Kranthi Varala, Sydney A. Cameron, Andrew G. Clark, Gene E. Robinson. Genes involved in convergent evolution of eusociality in bees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1103457108

Cite This Page:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Genetic study offers insight into the social lives of bees." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 April 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110411152529.htm>.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2011, April 19). Genetic study offers insight into the social lives of bees. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110411152529.htm
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Genetic study offers insight into the social lives of bees." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110411152529.htm (accessed August 29, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Friday, August 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) — State health officials say testing has confirmed the presence of a killer amoeba in a water system serving three St. John the Baptist Parish towns. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) — Hoping to break the record for world's wooliest, Shaun the sheep came up 10 pounds shy with his fleece weighing over 50 pounds after being shorn for the first time in years. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) — Canadian scientists looking into the very first land animals took a fish out of water and forced it to walk. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Huge Ancient Wine Cellar Found In Israel

Huge Ancient Wine Cellar Found In Israel

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) — An international team uncovered a large ancient wine celler that likely belonged to a Cannonite ruler. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins