Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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8-Mar-2012

Contact: Science Press Package
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

What can honeybees tell us about human behavior?



A scout bee approaches Chinese cabbage flowers.
[Image courtesy of Zachary Huang / beetography.com]

A new study of honeybees might help researchers understand why some people break free of their normal routines and seek out new experiences. Zhengzheng Liang and colleagues took a close look at the genes that are expressed in the brains of honeybees when the bees are out searching for new food sources.

First, the researchers discovered that only some honeybees participate in these scouting efforts. Some bees leave their nests in search of new food sources, others leave in order to look for a new home, and some bees hardly ever leave their nests at all.

The researchers then rearranged the honeybees' food sources in a large, screened outdoor area and kept an eye on the bees that were bold enough to leave their nests and go searching for new food sources. They compared the brain-gene expression of those adventurous honeybees to the expression of the bees that decided to stay home.

According to Liang and the other researchers, the honeybees that were out looking for new food sources and new places to live had dramatically different signaling levels in their brains than the other, homebody bees. The researchers could even adjust this brain-gene expression in the bees with certain chemicals, which caused the bees to either scout more or stay closer to home.

The genes that cause these honeybees to leave home and scout for new items are very similar to the genes associated with novelty-seeking behavior in higher organisms, including humans, they say. So, Liang and the researchers suggest that their findings may eventually help researchers to understand exactly how such behavior evolved in different species over time.

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