Bees reveal nature-nuture secrets

November 02, 2010

The nature-nurture debate is a "giant step" closer to being resolved after scientists studying bees documented how environmental inputs can modify our genetic hardware. The researchers uncovered extensive molecular differences in the brains of worker bees and queen bees which develop along very different paths when put on different diets The research was led by Professor Ryszard Maleszka of The Australian National University's College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, working with colleagues from the German Cancer Institute in Heidelberg, Germany and will be published next week in the online, open access journal PLoS Biology

Their work reveals for the first time the intricacies of the environmentally-influenced chemical 'marking of DNA' called DNA methylation, which has the capacity to alter gene expression without affecting the genetic code - a process referred to as 'epigenetic', or above the genome.

"This marking determines which genes are to be fine-tuned in the brains of workers and queens to produce their extraordinarily different behaviours. This finding is not only crucial, but far reaching, because the enzymes that mark DNA in the bee are also the enzymes that mark DNA in human brains," said Professor Maleszka.

"In the bees, more than 550 genes are differentially marked between the brain of the queen and the brain of the worker, which contributes to their profound divergence in behaviour. This study provides the first documentation of extensive molecular differences that may allow honey bees to generate different reproductive and behavioural outcomes as a result of differential feeding with royal jelly."

Professor Maleszka said that the work goes a long way to answering one of life's biggest questions.

"This study represents a giant step towards answering one of the big questions in the nature-nurture debate, because it shows how the outside world is linked to DNA via diet, and how environmental inputs can transiently modify our genetic hardware," he said.

"Similar studies are impossible to do on human brains, so the humble honey bees are the pioneers in this fascinating area."
-end-
Funding: Work in FL's lab was supported by a grant from the Ministerium fur Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kunst Baden-Wurttemberg. Work in RM's lab was supported by the Australian Research Council grant DP1092706. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests statement: The authors declare that no competing interests exist.

Citation: Lyko F, Foret S, Kucharski R, Wolf S, Falckenhayn C, et al. (2010) The Honey Bee Epigenomes: Differential Methylation of Brain DNA in Queens and
Workers. PLoS Biol 8(11): e1000506. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000506

PLEASE ADD THE LINK TO THE PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT: http://biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pbio.1000506

PRESS ONLY PREVIEW OF THE ARTICLE: http://www.plos.org/press/plbi-08-11-Maleszka.pdf

RELATED PRIMER: http://www.plos.org/press/plbi-08-11-MaleszkaPrimer.pdf

CONTACT:
Professor Ryszard Maleszka
02 6125 0451 / 0416 249 059

Martyn Pearce
Australian National University Media
02 6125 5575 / 0416 249 245

PLOS

Related DNA Articles from Brightsurf:

A new twist on DNA origami
A team* of scientists from ASU and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) led by Hao Yan, ASU's Milton Glick Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences, and director of the ASU Biodesign Institute's Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics, has just announced the creation of a new type of meta-DNA structures that will open up the fields of optoelectronics (including information storage and encryption) as well as synthetic biology.

Solving a DNA mystery
''A watched pot never boils,'' as the saying goes, but that was not the case for UC Santa Barbara researchers watching a ''pot'' of liquids formed from DNA.

Junk DNA might be really, really useful for biocomputing
When you don't understand how things work, it's not unusual to think of them as just plain old junk.

Designing DNA from scratch: Engineering the functions of micrometer-sized DNA droplets
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) have constructed ''DNA droplets'' comprising designed DNA nanostructures.

Does DNA in the water tell us how many fish are there?
Researchers have developed a new non-invasive method to count individual fish by measuring the concentration of environmental DNA in the water, which could be applied for quantitative monitoring of aquatic ecosystems.

Zigzag DNA
How the cell organizes DNA into tightly packed chromosomes. Nature publication by Delft University of Technology and EMBL Heidelberg.

Scientists now know what DNA's chaperone looks like
Researchers have discovered the structure of the FACT protein -- a mysterious protein central to the functioning of DNA.

DNA is like everything else: it's not what you have, but how you use it
A new paradigm for reading out genetic information in DNA is described by Dr.

A new spin on DNA
For decades, researchers have chased ways to study biological machines.

From face to DNA: New method aims to improve match between DNA sample and face database
Predicting what someone's face looks like based on a DNA sample remains a hard nut to crack for science.

Read More: DNA News and DNA Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.