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FEATURE ARTICLE

From Society to Genes with the Honey Bee

A combination of environmental, genetic, hormonal and neurobiological factors determine a bee's progression through a series of life stages

Gene Robinson

Despite a long history of studying the behavior of honey bees, scientists know rather little about the proximate causes behind a bee’s actions. Our author studies a variety of honey bee characteristics, which range from social to chromosomal factors. For example, he shows that a worker bee’s transition from working as a nurse in the hive to a forager in the field involves increasing levels of so-called juvenile hormone. In addition, he discovered that a region of a honey bee’s brain, called the mushroom bodies, increases in size while worker bees mature, perhaps in response to a bee’s spatial learning from foraging flights. Finally, Robinson describes ongoing work on genes that affect a honey bee’s rate of maturation. In the end, his work attempts to link the environmental and genetic factors that control a honey bee’s social behavior.


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