A Sting of Love

Entomologist Gene Robinson:

Exploring the Social Lives of Bees

Gene Robinson Studies Bee Societies

He investigates how hormones and nerve circuitry influence honeybee social behavior.



What do bees have in common with vertebrates?

Answer: Hormones

Bees, like humans, are controlled in part by hormonal stimulation.

Bees exhibit many of the complex behaviors of vertebrates, such as foraging.

Do Honeybees Have Brains?

Yes. Although not as complex as human brains, bee brains appear to respond to the coordinated action of brain genes.

Honeybee brain.

Photo: Zachary Huang, http://cyberbee.msu.edu/

Hive as Laboratory

Clear, Flexible Division of Labor



Can Environment Influence Genes?

Robinson discovers that environment changes honeybee job tasks and how fast bees grow up.

When forager bees are taken from the hive, younger "nurse bees" suddenly become active foragers.

Given a shortage of nurse bees, some bees never grow up, becoming "Peter Pans" that care for young bees.

Conclusion: Social regulation and environment affect brain genes and growth.

Rhythm in the Genes

  1. Gene is socially regulated

  2. Active in forager bees; inactive in nurse bees

  3. Found in almost all animal species

Why might the period gene be more active in some bees than in others?

Which rhythmic activities might the period gene control in all species?

How Is a Gene Affected by Social Activity?

Findings: Pheromones Trigger Changes

  1. Decentralized hive activity┬Ślike stock market, in which individual actions affect stock prices, even though it appears that there is a general, integrated response.

  2. Honeybees respond adaptively as an integrated unit, but it's not as if the queen or a "select committee" of bees in the know is sending out orders.

  3. Robinson has found evidence that molecular signals, communicated via pheromones, cause direct changes in honeybee gene activity.

Research Applications

How might Robinson's sociogenomic findings help answer the question: "What makes humans unique┬Śnature, nurture, or both?