New Genomic Study Unveils the Evolution of the Insect Society of Bees

First Posted: May 15, 2015 12:50 PM EDT

A new genomic study may tell scientists a bit more about the evolution of insect society in bees. Researchers have examined 10 species of bees representing a spectrum of social living and have found out how genetic changes cause the evolution of bee societies.

"First, there is no single road map to eusociality-the complex, cooperative social system in which animals behave more like superorganisms than individuals fending for themselves," said Gene Robinson, lead author of the new study, in a news release. "In this study, we found that independent evolutionary transitions in social life have independent genetic underpinnings."

The researchers also discovered a bit more about the changes in the evolution of gene regulation. As social complexity increased among species, so did the speed of changes to parts of the genome involved in regulating gene activity, located in the promoters of the genes. In contrast, the researchers found very slow changes in many parts of the genome that code for actual proteins. There was also an increase in DNA methylation as social complexity increased.

"These results demonstrate once again that important new insights into evolution can be obtained by using genomes as history books," said Robinson. "We have now learned what genetic changes have occurred during the evolution of the bees, notable for their elaborate societies and essential pollination services."

The findings are published in the journal Science.

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