Saturday, October 28, 2006


Honeybee : Open Access articles and video from Nature magazine ('Web focus')

"Honeybees have fascinating social structure and advanced societies despite having brains that are five orders of magnitude smaller than humans. An international consortium here reports the genome sequence of the honeybee. Initial analysis of gene content and evolution yields insight into how they accomplish such complex organisation and behaviours such as the famous 'waggle dance' (see 'waggle dance' video below). This special Nature web focus celebrates the publication of the honeybee genome with video interviews and news analysis of the primary research papers, and a comprehensive archive of all matters Apis mellifera."


* Honeybee Genome Video (also see 'waggle dance' video below)
* Current Research
* Podcast
* Links
* Archive


UPDATE March 4 2007: Many of the listed papers are no longer open access. Here's one exception:

Insights into social insects from the genome of the honeybee Apis mellifera

and The Honeybee Genome Sequencing Consortium

Nature 443, 931-949 (26 October 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature05260; Received 13 July 2006; Accepted 19 September 2006

Here we report the genome sequence of the honeybee Apis mellifera, a key model for social behaviour and essential to global ecology through pollination. Compared with other sequenced insect genomes, the A. mellifera genome has high A+T and CpG contents, lacks major transposon families, evolves more slowly, and is more similar to vertebrates for circadian rhythm, RNA interference and DNA methylation genes, among others. Furthermore, A. mellifera has fewer genes for innate immunity, detoxification enzymes, cuticle-forming proteins and gustatory receptors, more genes for odorant receptors, and novel genes for nectar and pollen utilization, consistent with its ecology and social organization. Compared to Drosophila, genes in early developmental pathways differ in Apis, whereas similarities exist for functions that differ markedly, such as sex determination, brain function and behaviour. Population genetics suggests a novel African origin for the species A. mellifera and insights into whether Africanized bees spread throughout the New World via hybridization or displacement.


Video: "Dancing Honeybee Using Vector Calculus to Communicate" (Waggle Dance):


Non-open access articles include:

Honeybee colonies achieve fitness through dancing

Gavin Sherman and P. Kirk Visscher

Nature 419, 920-922 (31 October 2002) | doi:10.1038/nature01127; Received 27 May 2002; Accepted 3 September 2002

The honeybee dance language, in which foragers perform dances containing information about the distance and direction to food sources, is the quintessential example of symbolic communication in non-primates. The dance language has been the subject of controversy, and of extensive research into the mechanisms of acquiring, decoding and evaluating the information in the dance. The dance language has been hypothesized, but not shown, to increase colony food collection. Here we show that colonies with disoriented dances (lacking direction information) recruit less effectively to syrup feeders than do colonies with oriented dances. For colonies foraging at natural sources, the direction information sometimes increases food collected, but at other times it makes no difference. The food-location information in the dance is presumably important when food sources are hard to find, variable in richness and ephemeral. Recruitment based simply on arousal of foragers and communication of floral odour, as occurs in honeybees1, bumble bees and some stingless bees, can be equally effective under other circumstances. Clarifying the condition-dependent payoffs of the dance language provides new insight into its function in honeybee ecology.

Chronobiology: Reversal of honeybee behavioural rhythms

Guy Bloch1 and Gene E. Robinson

Nature 410, 1048 (26 April 2001) | doi:10.1038/35074183

Adult honeybees have sleep-like states and, like human infants, bees develop their own endogenous circadian rhythms as they mature. But whereas disruption of our sleep cycles and synchronized internal rhythms may adversely affect our physiology and performance, we show here that honeybees can revert to certain arrhythmic behaviours when necessary. To our knowledge, this chronobiological plasticity is the first example in any animal of a socially mediated reversal in activity rhythms.

Genetic kin recognition: honey bees discriminate between full and half sisters

Wayne M. Getz, Katherine B. Smith

Nature 302, 147 - 148 (10 Mar 1983) doi:10.1038/302147a0

The ability of organisms to recognize kin not previously encountered has been demonstrated in monkeys, mice, frogs, a sweat bee and the honey bee. The environmental and genetic components of recognition are difficult to separate even in controlled conditions. Here we show that the honey bee Apis mellifera discriminates between full and half sisters raised in the same hive, on the same brood comb in neighbouring cells, thus demonstrating a significant genetic component to the recognition process. Besides its ethological implications, this work has implications for the evolution of sterile worker castes in hymenopterans.

Evidence from mitochondrial DNA that African honey bees spread as continuous maternal lineages

H. Glenn Hall, K. Muralidharan

Nature 339, 211 - 213 (18 May 1989) doi:10.1038/339211a0

African honey bees have populated much of South and Central America and will soon enter the United States. The mechanism by which they have spread is controversial. Africanization may be largely the result of paternal gene flow into extant European populations or, alternatively, of maternal migration of feral swarms that have maintained an African genetic integrity. We have been using both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA restriction fragment length polymorphisms to follow the population dynamics between European and African bees. In earlier reports, we suggested that if African honey bees had distinctive mitochondrial (mt) DNA, then it could potentially distinguish the relative contributions of swarming and mating to the Africanization process. Because mtDNA is maternally inherited, it would not be transmitted by mating drones and only transported by queens accompanying swarms. Furthermore, the presence of African mtDNA would reflect unbroken maternal lineages from the original bees introduced from Africa. The value of mtDNA for population studies in general has been reviewed recently. Here we report that 19 feral swarms, randomly caught in Mexico, all carried African mtDNA. Thus, the migrating force of the African honey bee in the American tropics consists of continuous African maternal lineages spreading as swarms. The mating of African drones to European queens seems to contribute little to African bee migration.


A non-technical introduction: "The Biology of the Honeybee"

Listen to the honeybee (in case you've forgotten!)

Featured book: "Honeybees of Africa" (Amazon UK | US)

Books on 'Insects and Evolution' from the Science and Evolution Bookshop: UK | US

From the Washington Post: "Honeybee Genome May Shed Light on Social Evolution"


Other posts include:

"Evolutionary history of vespid wasps rewritten by New study"

"Trapped in Amber: Oldest Bee DNA generates a buzz"

"Amber find shows Amazon as biodiversity hotspot"

"Sweat bees' social evolution"

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