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Division of labor in social insects has made the evolution of collective traits possible that cannot be achieved by individuals alone. Differences in behavioral responses produce variation in engagement in behavioral tasks, which as a consequence, generates a division of labor. We still have little understanding of the genetic components influencing these behaviors, although several candidate genomic regions and genes influencing individual behavior have been identified. Here, we report that mixing of worker honeybees with different genotypes influences the expression of individual worker behaviors and the transcription of genes in the neuronal substrate. These indirect genetic effects arise in a colony because numerous interactions between workers produce interacting phenotypes and genotypes across organisms. We studied hygienic behavior of honeybee workers, which involves the cleaning of diseased brood cells in the colony. We mixed ∼500 newly emerged honeybee workers with genotypes of preferred Low (L) and High (H) hygienic behaviors. The L/H genotypic mixing affected the behavioral engagement of L worker bees in a hygienic task, the cooperation among workers in uncapping single brood cells, and switching between hygienic tasks. We found no evidence that recruiting and task-related stimuli are the primary source of the indirect genetic effects on behavior. We suggested that behavioral responsiveness of L bees was affected by genotypic mixing and found evidence for changes in the brain in terms of 943 differently expressed genes. The functional categories of cell adhesion, cellular component organization, anatomical structure development, protein localization, developmental growth and cell morphogenesis were overrepresented in this set of 943 genes, suggesting that indirect genetic effects can play a role in modulating and modifying the neuronal substrate. Our results suggest that genotypes of social partners affect the behavioral responsiveness and the neuronal substrate of individual workers, indicating a complex genetic architecture underlying the expression of behavior.


Tanja Gempe, Silke Stach, Kaspar Bienefeld, Martin Beye. Mixing of honeybees with different genotypes affects individual worker behavior and transcription of genes in the neuronal substrate. PloS one. 2012;7(2):e31653

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PMID: 22348118

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