Researcher Saurab Sinha at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is trying to decode the genes governing social behavior in honey bees. Sinha and colleagues are trying to find the social gene which lets bees change roles in the hive based on social pressure.
Adult bees start by working as nurses of young bees, and will turn into foragers for nectar and pollen when they get older. However, if the hive has a need, some young bees will turn into foragers prematurely. The job transition involves changing thousands of genes in the honey bee’s brain, turning some genes off, and others on.
Saurab Sinha and colleagues hope to use the bee gene sequences they discovered as a model of socially triggered role changes in human brains.