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What can antisocial bees teach us about autism?

While there are well-known genetic similarities between animals and humans, you might be surprised how much more cool new stuff scientists are discovering in this field.

In a study (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) led by Hagai Shpigler, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Illinois (UI) in Urbana, a team of researchers hypothesised a genetic similarity between honeybees and humans with autism.

Shpigler tested bees in different social situations and then “isolated the genes active in the insects’ mushroom bodies, a part of the brain responsible for complex actions such as social behaviour,” writes Elizabeth Pennis for Science Magazine.

They found that a particular subset of genes was active within the most bees that were least responsive in each social situation. It was discovered that these genes matched those associated with autism spectrum disorders when various sets were compared.

“Some of the genes involved help regulate the flow of ions in and out of the cells, particularly nerve cells; others code for so-called heat shock proteins that are typically induced during stress,” Pennis writes.

Alan Packer, a geneticist at the Simons Foundation in New York City, reminds us that this is just a single parallel drawn between honey bee and human gene behaviour.

“If you want to understand how these genes interact, the honey bee might be a useful model,” he notes.

“The more models that are available to study how these genes give rise to these behaviours, the better.”

We’re glad to have caught this latest buzz now, since bees as a species are fighting for survival.

Via Science Magazine

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