It seems nobody has been busier than the honey bee lately when it comes to being a model epigenetic organism. (Watch your back c. elegans!) Over the last year or so, we’ve seen how HDAC inhibitors affect the bee caste system, as well as how social cues alter DNA methylation patterns in the brains of worker bees. Now non-coding RNAs join the party as a new study reveals that certain miRNAs are linked to specific worker bee tasks.
The division of labor in a honey bee hive is mostly based on how old the bee is; younger bees act as nurses that attend to the queen, and care for larvae, while bees over a week old become foragers venturing out in search of pollen. Researchers at Washington University, and their collaborators, wondered what was going on in a bee’s head that led to these changes, so they explored miRNA expression in bee brains to find answers.
The Wash U. Team sequenced the miRNA transcriptome from bee heads and here’s what was uncovered:
- Several miRNAs were downregulated in nurses vs. foragers
- That miRNA downregulation only occurred in hives where foragers were present.
- Evolutionary analysis found the same miRNAs conserved in other eusocial species, like ants.
The scientists say this evidence shows that, unlike most of us who just get a list of chores from our significant others, bees may have their daily assignments controlled by miRNAs. Even more than that, the authors hypothesize that miRNAs regulate social behavior throughout development as well as evolution.
Get the latest on bee labor at Genes, Brain and Behavior, April 2012.