Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?

Switching Tasks Changes Worker Bee DNA 82

`puddingebola writes "A report in the journal Nature Neuroscience (paywalled) says scientists have observed epigenetic markers in bees that correspond to their roles in the society. From the article, 'Honeybees are born into their place in society. Those fed royal jelly as larvae emerge as queens and do little but lay eggs. The rest become worker bees and divvy up the jobs that need doing around the hive. While some worker bees remain at home, others take flight in search of nectar, pollen and other hive essentials. The entire honeybee workforce are genetically identical sisters. But analysis of the worker bees' DNA revealed that foragers had one pattern of chemical tags on their genes, while those that stayed home had another. When bees swapped one job for the other, their genetic tags changed accordingly.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Switching Tasks Changes Worker Bee DNA

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why even include sources that cannot be accessed by the majority of readers?

    • Because some people are professional scientists, and they're seriously excited about this.

      And a lot of /. readers are college students, who don't even notice the paywall thanks to their institution's subscriptions. This one's for them. (And maybe you, if you can find a pirated copy)
  • Taks transcribed to DNA. Hmm. This doesn't sound all that far from a mechanism that could transcribe thoughts... primitive or otherwise... back into DNA to be passed to offspring. Much like the concept of inherited behaviors actually, which clearly exist. We could explain inherited behavior by random selection... higher mortality of individuals not exhibiting the behavior... but that would be awfully slow compared to a mechanism that could pass learned behaviors to offspring. And such a mechanism would give

    • by Chrontius ( 654879 ) on Monday September 17, 2012 @10:41PM (#41370617)
      Tasks are not! transcoded to DNA; this is NOT an exception to the central dogma of molecular biology []. The epigenome is RNA and protein and smaller signaling molecules; the DNA sequence itself is untouched, and nothing happens to the deoxy-ribose sugar backbone.

      Think of it as the metadata getting changed, not the code - a differing pattern of lines of code being commented out.
      • But that metadata also helps describe how that code is transcribed into new programs when recombined, doesn't it?

        • It doesn't have to be recombined; gene regulation happens rather a lot within the individual lifespan. And it also (it's really complicated) tends to influence how often the code is transcribed, rather than how it is transcribed, though there's edge cases like white blood cells where they actually splice out chunks of their DNA to see if they can make an antibody that is potentially useful - instead of cels that target your pancreas (and would otherwise cause diabetes) simply self-destructing, they try to
      • Your post led me to this link: []

        "Chromosomal regions can adopt stable and heritable alternative states resulting in bistable gene expression without changes to the DNA sequence. Epigenetic control is often associated with alternative covalent modifications of histones.[23] The stability and heritability of states of larger chromosomal regions are often thought to involve positive feedback where modified nucleosomes recru

        • I missed this when I responded to Godzilla first, but this is exactly the right track - and unless I misread the original story, exactly what's going on here. If it's working on the principle of modified nucleosomes being autocatalytic, it's operating on a fairly coarse, chunky level, however.
      • Whoa, a little aggressive there. (Did Crick actually have it right when he called it dogma?) As noted below, according to []epigenetics, "Conclusive evidence supporting epigenetics show that these mechanisms can enable the effects of parents' experiences to be passed down to subsequent generations." So I erred in speculating about DNA transcription, but otherwise the idea already seems partially validated. According to Wikipedia[tm].

        • Crick didn't really have it right when he called it dogma. I think the consensus as of six months ago was somewhere between "Central Dogma is a theory" and "Central Dogma should have been called Central Theory". The fact that they went back and had to revise it when HIV and reverse-transcriptase were discovered means that it never really was dogma in the literal sense.

          And I probably did come on stronger than is polite. I'm sorry about that, I was trying to be unambiguous in a post written in 60 second
          • The point is well taken: in this context, DNA stays constant while heritable changes to expression take place. Which makes some kind of intuitive sense, like the charge in a memory cell changing while the transistor connections do not. And which seems plausible as a means of encoding heritable memories. Barging on from there: perhaps one day somebody will get a Nobel prize for discovering the "memory code" just as Crick did for the genetic code.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Awesome metaphor! You're generally spot on - DNA base sequence is untouched / nothing happens to the phosphate backbone / epigenetics is all about controlling which genes are made into proteins - but to be nitpicky, an important epigenetic phenomenon which is probably also operating here is DNA methylation []. DNA is directly modified in a way which alters the pattern in which genes are expressed, is fairly long-term for the cell and is heritable by future generations of cells in the organism (i.e. epigenetica

        • You got it right with DNA methylation - and there's also acetylation, which I forgot to mention as well. Thank you for catching me on that. The two can be generally described as up-regulating (acetylation) and down-regulating (methylation) the expression of that patch of DNA. Wikipedia has a nice overview of it here, [] which helpfully points out that it's the histones - "spindle" molecules that are acetylated, to allow easier access to the DNA for increased transcription.
          • Well, if we're talking histone modifications there are a few more types (phosphorylation, ubiquitylation, sumoylation, biotinylation). I was talking about direct methylation of the DNA molecule, though, not histones. Have a read of the link in my last post.

            I was just being pedantic - I couldn't help pointing out that the epigenome isn't just RNA and protein; epigenetics sometimes does involve chemical modification of DNA itself mainly in imprinting []. It wasn't really that relevant to the point you were makin

    • This is epigenetic. That is, the genes aren't being altered. What is being altered is the pattern of which genes are on and off--which proteins are being expressed. What's impressive here is that the change is so big and capable of reversals.
    • such a mechanism would give the species possessing it a huge advantage, therefore by the law of evolution it almost has to exist.

      The theory of evolution implies no such thing.

  • by reubenavery ( 1047008 ) on Monday September 17, 2012 @10:41PM (#41370607)
    Totally feel the bees on that.

    Whenever I need to completely switch gears from one project to the next (like going from Drupal into Zend Framework), I will require at least two weeks of downtime (although I would never dare admit to it to my manager). It's unavoidable. It's like my brain is jammed between channels and no matter how much I beat the horse, it will be this way while my neurons rearrange themselves. Then, one sunny day, bing it's all realigned and reprogrammed and I'm off to the productive races.

    Wish there were medical-creative downtime available....
  • by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <> on Monday September 17, 2012 @11:06PM (#41370779) Homepage Journal
    Epigenetics is not about the DNA sequence itself, but rather about how the DNA is managed and accessed. Generally it refers to the protein that helps to condense the DNA and make some parts more accessible than others. Really the more noticeable change would be in their RNA, which is the sequence of expressed genes.

    Basically if your genome is a tape library, RNA is your local hard drive, which is pulling files as needed from the tape library. Your system RAM is, of course, protein.
  • not to multi-task.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @01:07AM (#41371373)

    A Hive is not identical sisters. There are usually 3 to 5 males who mated with the Queen, so there are factions which are more closely related and they try to elevate their Queen larvae when the time comes to create a new Queen. Also, even the sisters with the same 2 parents are not genetically identical, they still have the usual mix of traits from both parents from when the egg was fertilized.

  • I noticed this a while ago. People in New Jersey, doing whatever it is people in New Jersey do, have their DNA changed to the point that their skin becomes orange and several other peculiarities...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Worker bees in a hive are not geneticially identical, nor are they all sisters in the usual sense of the word. Queen bees are typically multiply mated during a mating flight and store sperm for life. Male bees develop from unfertilized eggs and they only have one set of chromosomes which each of their offspring inherits in full. Pairs of worker bees therefore either have the same father so they share on average 75% of their genes, or they have different fathers so that they share 25% of their genes.

  • wow flying fpga's
  • Waiving their private parts at our aunties, again. Father was a hamster, mother smelt of eldeberries, all that.
  • I wouldn't be surprised if iPhone users have mutated chemical tags too. Look for the "religious" gene first, and don't forget to check the "fashion-victim", "metrosexual softie" and "RDF-sensititvity" genes, then verify that the "die-hard technologist" gene is turned off.

    Wait, I'm going to write a research proposal just now...

  • I'm confused. The title says that the bees' DNA is changed, but the summary says that chemical markers ON the DNA are changed?

    I didn't RTFA since the hook was so ambiguous.

  • You guys understand the brain bugs in Starship Troopers, bred whenever a problem needed magical solving, and the engineers in The Mote in God's Eye, were both sarcastic commentary about highly intelligent science and engineering knuckling under to let political idiots run the show and tell them what to do.

    See also A Deepness In the Sky. Or parts of Atlas Shrugged, for that matter.

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!