How Bees Modify Their DNA
Johns Hopkins researchers link reversible 'epigenetic' marks to behavior patterns
Johns Hopkins scientists report what is believed to be the first evidence that complex, reversible behavioral patterns in bees — and presumably other animals — are linked to reversible chemical tags on genes.
The scientists say what is most significant about the new study, described online September 16 in Nature Neuroscience, is that for the first time DNA methylation "tagging" has been linked to something at the behavioral level of a whole organism. On top of that, they say, the behavior in question, and its corresponding molecular changes, are reversible, which has important implications for human health.
Employing a method that allows the researchers to analyze the whole genome at once, dubbed CHARM (comprehensive high-throughput arrays for relative methylation), the team analyzed the location of DNA methylations in the brains of worker bees of two different "professions." All worker bees are female and, within a given hive, are all genetically identical sisters. However, they don't all do the same thing; some nurse and some forage.
Nurses are generally younger and remain in the hive to take care of the queen and her larvae. When nurses mature, they become foragers that leave the hive to gather pollen and other supplies for the hive. "Genes themselves weren't going to tell us what is responsible for the two types of behavior," Feinberg says. "But epigenetics — and how it controls genes — could."
Bee photo via Shutterstock.
Read more at EurekAlert.