Can Anti-Social Bee Behavior Assist in Decoding Autism Symptoms
Honey bees tend to guard the hive while protecting the queen. We see them generally buzz and flit around in constant motions.
A new study has observed a different behaviour among some bees; they rarely interact and mostly sit around.
Can these anti-social bees reflect a genetic profile of autistic people, as individuals on the autism spectrum too have a lesser response towards social situations?!
Hans Hofmann says the ongoing research shows an interesting study on the ways evolution taps the molecular pathways in animals of different kinds, even for something complex like a social behavior.
Hofmann, an evolutionary scientist, further adds that the circuits underlying behavioral traits “must be different for honey bees and humans.” However, says Hoffman, the genes are uniquely employed in a very similar manner at the molecular level, which is surprising.
Hagai Shpigler, post-doctorate from the University of Illinois, led the team of his colleagues where they designed tests to observe the variations in the insects’ social behavior.
They recorded the insects’ actions and the team analyzed each individual bee reaction towards a social situation. While going through the recording, Shpigler says his attention was caught by an unfamiliar insect behavior.
The insects guard themselves ferociously and resort to mobbing strangers who may harm them.
Shpigler conducted another round of tests in which he put an immature queen larva into the group and observed 245 additional bees from multiple colonies. The team waited for bee reactions to observe how they responded and reacted to situations such as these.
The team patiently observed the bee reactions and were surprised to see 14% of the insects were unresponsive to either of the tests.
To have an in-depth understanding, the team isolated the active genes present in the mushroom bodies. These genes were seen to be responsible for regulating complex actions like social behaviors in the insects.
These insect genes were compared and implicated with the genetic sets seen in schizophrenia, autism and related disorders.
The team was surprised to see that although bees and humans are different, many genes are found to be in common.
The genetic activity between genes that had an association with autism and the genetic activity of non-responsive bees was seen to have a match.
There were genes that were shown to regulate the ion flow from the cells such as the nerve cells. Other important proteins such as heat shock were also in common.
The researchers have yet to understand the genetic influence and the roles of genes in humans and honeybees.
Alan Packer says having the genes manipulated in bees will shed light on how modified genes react in humans. Alan Packer is a geneticist.
Although Packer was not involved in the study, he has been actively compiling the list of different genes that are seen to have an implication in ASD.
Packer highlights that the research should not give an impression that humans are bigger bees or that bees are little humans.
However, says Packer, the bees can be used as a model in understanding and progressing in the field of genetics.