Genetics Plays Vital Role In Building Better Bees
October 16, 2012

Genetics Plays Vital Role In Building Better Bees

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

A new study suggests that the reason worker bees are such a highly skilled and specialized workforce is that the genes controlling their behavior are re-shuffled frequently, helping evolution build a better bee.

The new research from York University, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), sheds light on how sterile worker bees evolved charismatic and cooperative behaviors. These behaviors include nursing young bees, collecting food for the colony, defending it against intruders, and dancing to communicate the location of profitable flowers to nest mates.

By examining the honey bee genome, the team noticed that the genes associated with worker behavior were found in the area of the genome known to have the highest rate of recombination, which is basically a shuffling of the genetic deck. Biology Professor Amro Zayed says that because of such shuffling, the bees can be strongly varied. For example the recombination in a queen's ovaries means that her female offspring are likely to inherit mosaic chromosomes with different combinations of mutations.

This recombination allows specific mutations to be selected without regard to adjacent mutations.

"If I'm a good rower in a dragon boat with 49 poor rowers, I am going to lose all of my races. But if teams were shuffled after every race, I'll likely have a better chance of winning. I may even get to be in a boat with 49 good rowers just like myself," says Zayed. "The same thing happens with mutations on a chromosome. Recombination makes the evolutionary fate of mutations independent of their surrounding neighbors, which enhances the process of natural selection.".

Zayed and his team think they have solved one of the mysteries of the honey bee's genome.

"The honey bee has the highest rates of recombination in animals — ten times higher than humans. Our study shows that this high degree of genetic shuffling has turned on the evolutionary faucet in parts of the bee genome responsible for orchestrating worker behavior," says postdoctoral research associate Clement Kent. "This can allow natural selection to increase the fitness of honey bee colonies, which live or die based on how well their workers 'behave'."