Nature-nurture secrets revealed by bees

November 3rd, 2010 - 1:59 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Nov 3 (ANI): The long-standing debate of nature-nurture is one step closer to being resolved - all thanks to bees.

Scientists at The Australian National University’s College of Medicine studied bees and documented how environmental inputs can modify our genetic hardware.

Their work reveals for the first time the intricacies of the environmentally influenced chemical ‘marking of DNA’ called DNA methylation, which has the capacity to alter gene expression without affecting the genetic code - a process referred to as ‘epigenetic’, or above the genome.

“This marking determines which genes are to be fine-tuned in the brains of workers and queens to produce their extraordinarily different behaviours,” said Professor Ryszard Maleszka.

This finding is not only crucial, but far reaching, because the enzymes that mark DNA in the bee are also the enzymes that mark DNA in human brains, he said.

According to the results, in the bees, more than 550 genes are differentially marked between the brain of the queen and the brain of the worker, which contributes to their profound divergence in behaviour.

“This study represents a giant step towards answering one of the big questions in the nature-nurture debate, because it shows how the outside world is linked to DNA via diet, and how environmental inputs can transiently modify our genetic hardware,” Maleszka said.

“Similar studies are impossible to do on human brains, so the humble honey bees are the pioneers in this fascinating area.”

The study will be published next week in the online, open access journal PLoS Biology. (ANI)

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