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Brain gene expression changes when honey bees go the distance
Date:8/18/2010

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Tricking honey bees into thinking they have traveled long distance to find food alters gene expression in their brains, researchers report this month. Their study, in the journal Genes, Brain and Behavior, is the first to identify distance-responsive genes.

Foraging honey bees make unique research animals in part because they communicate in a language humans can decode, said University of Illinois entomology and neuroscience professor Gene Robinson, who led the study. After a successful hunt, a forager performs a highly stylized "dance" that tells her peers what direction to go to find the food, how good it is and how far away it is. The bee does a "round dance" if the food is close to home, while a "waggle dance" indicates it is farther away.

(You can watch a video of activity in the honey bee hive, including the dances here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lE-8QuBDkkw&feature=player_embedded.)

The new study used an established method for altering a honey bee's perception of distance as she flew through a tunnel to gather food. Vertical stripes or a busy pattern on the tunnel walls can trick a bee into thinking she is traveling a greater distance, while horizontal stripes or a sparse pattern indicate a shorter distance even though the tunnels are the exact same length. At the end of the flight, a researcher watches the honey bee dance to find out how far she thinks she flew.

"This is a great example of what you can learn if you are able to manipulate an animal to be able to tell you what it's thinking," Robinson said.

Using microarray analysis, which tracks the activity of thousands of genes at once, the researchers compared gene expression in the brains of bees that thought they had traveled shorter or longer distances. The team focused on two brain regions: the optic lobes, which process visual information
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Contact: Diana Yates
diya@illinois.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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