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Australia Science

Bees Reveal Nature-Nurture Secrets 84

Posted by samzenpus
from the spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-bee dept.
NoFear writes "The nature-nurture debate is a 'giant step' closer to being resolved after scientists studying bees documented how environmental inputs can modify our genetic hardware. The researchers uncovered extensive molecular differences in the brains of worker bees and queen bees which develop along very different paths when put on different diets. The research was led by Professor Ryszard Maleszka of The Australian National University's College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, working with colleagues from the German Cancer Institute in Heidelberg, Germany and will be published next week in the online, open access journal PLoS Biology."
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Bees Reveal Nature-Nurture Secrets

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  • Great to see... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    ...that a possibly major scientific paper is published in an open access journal. This trend seems ever more powerful, to the benefit of all, except the usual vultures (Elzevier, Springer, Wiley...).

  • But we’re gonna need a lot. Beads aren’t cheap. Are beads cheap?
  • by noidentity (188756) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @03:15PM (#34156086)
    What is the cause of the behavior of a program, its code or input? Obviously both in virtually all cases. The code sets what inputs it can respond to, and the inputs determine which response occurs. Flexible programs have long-term state, allowing inputs to have an effect on response far into the future. Why is there even a debate as to whether it's the code or input that entirely decides behavior? The particular behavior depends on the program, of course. A program which merely echoes its input back, without any state, is less-flexible than one that receives a script, then interprets it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by oldhack (1037484)
      And throw in all the wild varieties of virus inputs that mucks and morphs the code...
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      Organisms are not programs. DNA is not data. Biology is not a branch of computer science.

      In bygone times, people would compare animals and indeed human beings to clocks or steam engines. Comparing them to computers is just a flawed and just as misleading. However, it is more fashionable, so I doubt people will stop doing it anytime soon.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by brian_tanner (1022773)
        I don't know about fashionable, but perhaps necessary if you want to do science. It seems natural to model the behavior of most things as a function of a) initial conditions b) input c) randomness/stochasticity. For fixed initial conditions and input, you can model the distribution of outcomes. Then you can model how that distribution changes as you change initial conditions and inputs. Eventually you can look at behaviour and hypothesize about its causes, perhaps making changes to the initial conditio
      • by catbutt (469582) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @03:50PM (#34156348)
        It is a simple analogy, and makes plenty of sense. It isn't a matter of being "fashionable", people have tried to understand biology by analogy to man-made machines for centuries, and it is very useful.
      • by Simon80 (874052) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @03:59PM (#34156410)
        Comparing us to computers is not as flawed and not as misleading, because DNA is in fact data, and does encode behaviour, in the same way that a stream of bits can encode data or actions. The difference is that DNA is base-four and is interpreted through molecular machinery in ways that are far more complicated than any human-designed instruction set or data format. The analogy holds, otherwise. This isn't the same as blindly comparing organisms to other human-made stuff, because computers are programmable, and the other stuff is not.
        • by entotre (1929174)

          DNA is in fact data, and does encode behaviour, in the same way that a stream of bits can encode data or actions. The difference is that DNA is base-four and is interpreted through molecular machinery in ways that are far more complicated than any human-designed instruction set or data format..

          There is another difference: The computers are not build by the data they contain. I can get on board if the analogy is comparing humans to the software.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by the_humeister (922869)

        Organisms are not programs. DNA is not data. Biology is not a branch of computer science.

        In bygone times, people would compare animals and indeed human beings to clocks or steam engines. Comparing them to computers is just a flawed and just as misleading. However, it is more fashionable, so I doubt people will stop doing it anytime soon.

        I disagree. Biological systems, mechanical systems, electronic systems, etc. all have something in common: potential energy is used to produce output. Energy -> system -> output. Each series of systems certainly have different complexity levels, but making such comparisons is entirely valid.

      • First off, you have no justification for being rude. Second, I wasn't claiming that DNA was code or data. The idea was to work on a simpler problem that's superficially similar, and see whether one is able to think about that without trouble. If one has trouble with that, one is sure to have trouble with the biological one. It's like testing something; you first start with things that you are sure of the proper response. If that fails, you can be fairly sure it will fail for more complex things. One's abili
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Eil (82413)

        Organisms are not programs. DNA is not data. Biology is not a branch of computer science.

        Biology is distinct from computer science in terms of how we presently study them, yes. But they are both based on the same fundamental truths of the universe we exist in. (Some of which we do not know or fully understand yet.) Discovering these truths allows us to model biological systems and computer systems in much the same way.

        DNA sequences are most certainly data. They describe how an organism builds itself, and to

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by shugah (881805)

        The "program" analogy is actually pretty good as far as analogies go - certainly far better than "clocks" or "steam engines", although the appropriateness of the analogy really depends on the context and purpose.

        The genome of an organism (it's hereditary information) is encoded into its DNA - this would be the "program". DNA is composed of genes, sequences of genetic information that encode specific traits - analogous to statements or commands. Genes are composed of codons - analogous to words or bytes.

      • In bygone times, people would compare animals and indeed human beings to clocks or steam engines. Comparing them to computers is just a flawed and just as misleading.

        Absolutely! Everyone here knows they're much more like cars. The brain, obviously, is the steering wheel, as it controls the direction of the car. Or is the brain the ECU? Either way, the engine is the heart of the car. And the lungs are the carburetors.

        Hey, when are we going to get our direct-injection circulatory systems?

    • I think the original question (to give it fair credit) is "which is a better predictor of behavior?" Are criminals only criminals because nobody was there to hug them as they were growing up--will outreach programs solve the problem after a few generations? Is criminality something that a person is born with--is the blood of a criminal something that is passed down, and should they be persecuted for it? What about nobility? Is that in the blood, or can anyone, no matter how low their birth, be the next

    • by mppp (1936232)
      This is a misrepresentation of the problem. Clearly, observed behavior is the result of a particular combination of input and program. The question isn't whether it's one or the other, but rather, given the knowledge of only one or the other, how much of the observed behavior can you explain? And, moreover, to what extent does the input change the program?
  • And... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Dreth (1885712)
    When bees were asked about this study, they just cheered that they're making the news again after so long.
  • what debate? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by catbutt (469582) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @03:48PM (#34156322)
    I often hear it referred to as "the nature/nurture debate," as if people are actually debating whether we are products of our genetics or our environment. There is no debate, we are products of both. I suppose there are lots of little debates about how much each affects some particular trait. But the implication here that there is a single, central debate that can somehow be "resolved" is absurd.
    • The "debate" isn't concerned with whether or not nature or nurture affects us - as you say, the answer is of course. The debate is about two things - how much of a role each one plays and how the two roles interact. We get that your diet as an infant can affect how you grow up, but the better question is how that diet actually elicits a change and response in your genetics or general physiology.

    • I agree with you on the nature/nurture issue itself, but I think you wrong about this being a settled issue in the societies at large. The quiet is due to people not caring.

      • by entotre (1929174)

        The quiet is due to people not caring.

        I think they care a great deal, the same way they care about medical research. Immigration policies, adoption and eating habits are all examples of big subjects closely related to the nature/nurture issue.

    • yeah, bur creationist, young earthist and other crazy crackpot theorists need this kind of hyperbol. How otherwise are they going to pretend that " [hard science xyz] is a theory in crisis as proved by major debate therefore we have to teach content of bronze-age book as a viable alternative" ?

  • by tijnbraun (226978) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @04:00PM (#34156422)

    To quote Matt Ridley:

    The discovery of how genes actually influence human behaviour, and how human behaviour influences genes, is about to recast the debate entirely. No longer is it nature versus nurture, but nature via nurture. Genes are designed to take their cues from nurture

    Goodbye, nature vs nurture [newscientist.com]

    Replace human for bee or for organism and I think the quote still stands. It is not that the behaviour of an organism is for the most part determined by it genes, or either that is is determined by it nurture.

    Nurture will give direction, Nature will limit the abilities.

    How much you'll train a dog, it will never be able to play chess. How much you'll train a toddler, it will never be able to have capabilities to follow a scent trail like a bloodhound.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I play chess with my dog all the time. He's the only one I can beat!

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      [...]
      How much you'll train a dog, it will never be able to play chess. How much you'll train a toddler, it will never be able to have capabilities to follow a scent trail like a bloodhound.

      No one is debating absurdities like that though. The question is more like, was Manson destined to be a serial killer or was that a social effect? Or phrased more dangerously, if I add some environmental inputs, can I make sure no one is gay ever again?

      • Or you take the third approach: it was inevitable that Manson became what he is. We humans are composed of non-thinking, non-sentient base elements (mainly hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and other trace metals). As such, our bodies are bound by the physical laws of this universe. Change the position of one quark at the beginning of the universe and our solar system may not even exist today (let alone Charles Manson).

    • by entotre (1929174)

      Nurture will give direction, Nature will limit the abilities.

      I think you may be confusing nurture with training. In any case, nurture can certainly be limiting (as in eating habits effect on athletic performance) and nature can give directions (the giraffe will eat from tall trees).

    • by yarbo (626329)
      Richard Feynman talked about this in one of his books, Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman (I think). He said with a bit of practice, he could tell which objects in a room were handled by which people. I don't see why you couldn't train a human to follow a trail with some level of success.
    • by radtea (464814)

      Replace human for bee or for organism and I think the quote still stands.

      It's been obvious for decades now that "nature vs nurture" is a stupid way to decompose the various influences on human behaviour, but journalists and idiots (but I repeat myself) will continue to ask the "burning" question "nature vs nurture?" for at least a couple of decades more.

      Even so, /. in 2025 will probably carry stories with headlines:

      "Nature or Nurture: Which explains the failure of Linux on the desktop?"

      "Engineers look to unexpected places for variable geometry low-speed wing design: birds!"

      "Co

  • For BEES!

    That will be totally applicable to humans.

    Once we learn to fly.
    And turn yellow with black stripes.
    And grow bee fuzz.
    And grow another pair of limbs...

  • I remember reading an article years ago mentioning that queen bees become queens because their were fed a special diet not because they are genetically different. In fact they said it while explaining how if a queen bee dies the workers simply pick a worker larva at random and feed it royal jelly and it becomes a new queen bee. The article spoke of it even then as a well accepted fact, not some breaking news.

    So this can't be the news. From reading the article I gather the researchers discovered the actual c

    • by Skinkie (815924)
      Its basically simple, any worker is a queen and any queen is a worker for the first 3 days of their larve state. They both get royal jelly, the queen 'to bee' maintains on her royal jelly the larve that will be a worker doesn't. This is exploited when breeding queen bees, if there is no queen in the hive all 3 day larve will get royal jelly and they all will be queen bees. The debate here is obviously triggers royal jelly some genetic change, or is development of some parts of the body in the 4th - 6th da
  • There is an interesting book, called "A general theory of love", it describes a model - the triune brain*, which stipulates that the brain is made from 3 different regions (reptilian, limbic, neocortex) and explains how they interact with each other.

    The authors provide a lot of examples which illustrate that in the case of mammals, nurture plays a very important role. Children who do not play, or who don't hang out with other humans grow up to be solitary, lacking social skills, their lives are shorter, the

  • Nurture not only makes a queen out of the common female lava (that would have become a female worker) but also the drones that are MALE. So, as suggested, the DNA of a female worker and the DNA of a queen may be the same but royal jelly 'triggers' the DNA to make a bigger queen; then what about making the drone? The DNA of a female, be it worker or queen, can't possibly be the same as a male, the drone, can it?
    • by jtev (133871)
      In bees males are haploid and females are diploid. If the egg is not fertilized it develops into a male. If it is, it develops into a female. In mammals the usual pattern is for sex determining chromosomes to determine sex rather than polyploidity.
    • by grikdog (697841)

      Nurture not only makes a queen out of the common female lava (that would have become a female worker) but also the drones that are MALE. So, as suggested, the DNA of a female worker and the DNA of a queen may be the same but royal jelly 'triggers' the DNA to make a bigger queen; then what about making the drone? The DNA of a female, be it worker or queen, can't possibly be the same as a male, the drone, can it?

      Haploid drones, contributing genes to the queens of other hives, also contribute to the code/data pool because they are the members of the hive which sample the local environment most often. Queens are exposed to the environment on one maiden flight during which they mate with drones which run the environmental gauntlet all Spring and Summer until the hive shuts down for Winter. In other words, drones have a huge metaphorical thumb on the evolutionary scales compared to every other member of the hive, inc

  • Bees are not a good example here. Their genome contains two fairly fixed paths (queen bee, worker bee) that are chosen depending on what kind of food the bee is fed as a larva. The individual cannot "transcend" its set of genes, it's just that the bee genome contains these two paths.
  • I'm glad that scientists have finally solved that pesky nature/nurture debate that headline writers seem to like so much. I mean there was me thinking that most people with any sort of intelligence and/or access to publised studies realised that most matters were "a bit of both".

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