Antisocial Bees Share Genetic Profile With Autistic People, Study Says
Antisocial bees that prefer to keep to themselves rather than buzzing around with the rest of the hive share a genetic profile with people who have autism, a condition often leading to a similar lack of social awareness in humans, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Illinois observed the social behavior of honey bees, with postdoctoral fellow Hagai Shpigler designing two tests which involved filming a group of bees and analyzing each individual insect’s reaction to a social scenario.
In the first test, Shpigler stuck an unfamiliar bee in the group, which typically prompts bees to react aggressively to the outsider. Such behavior, know as “guarding,” sometimes leads to injury for the stranger.
In the second test, Shpigler put an immature queen larva in with the group, which typically brings out nurturing instincts for bees known as ‘nurse bees.’
Shpigler tested 245 groups of bees from seven different colonies multiple times. The groups each consisted of 10 bees.
“For any given task, most honey bees fall somewhere in the highly engaged to moderately engaged camp,” said University of Illinois entomology professor Gene Robinson, who led the study, as quotedby Phys.org. “Typically, honey bees will respond more robustly to one stimulus than to another.”
However, around 14 percent of the bees were unresponsive to both, Science Magazine reported, citing the study.
To better understand why certain bees lacked any sort of responsiveness to either scenario, the researchers analyzed some of the bees’ genes, finding that more than 1,000 genes were regulated differently between unresponsive bees, nurse bees, and guards.
The researchers then referenced a list of genes and gene expression profiles known to be associated with autism in humans, to see if the unresponsive bees shared any of those characteristics.