You’re probably wondering how bees and humans could possibly have anything in common. University of Illinois researchers made a remarkable discovery that links honey bees and individuals with autism. The researchers found that anti-social honey bees share similar gene expression profiles with individuals with autism. The findings are very unexpected. So, what are anti-social bees? Anti-social honey bees usually sit around and rarely interact with other bees in the hive. Individuals with autism share similar behaviors when interacting in a social setting and share a lack of social awareness.
The amazing discovery was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Of course, honey bees and humans are not the same. The researchers uncovered a way to make an unbiased test that examined human genes and honey bee genes to see if there was overlap. A total of 246 groups of honey bees from different honey bee colonies were used in testing and analysis. The researchers made sure that the honey bee colonies were all genetically different and tested the bees in different social contexts to gain a better understanding of behavior patterns. The different social contexts were important to properly study social behavior and interaction. The data findings are surprising! Researchers found that the two different species shared common molecular characteristics.
“Humans are not big bees and bees are not little humans. The social responsiveness depends on context and is different in the two cases. Autism spectrum disorder is very complex and unresponsiveness is not the only behavior associated with it”, described Michael Saul, a researcher who worked on the study, told The New York Post. This aim of the study was to understand common animal inheritance that drives social behavior. The findings are important for researchers to conduct future autism research that investigates social behaviors. “The researchers don’t yet know how exactly these genes influence social behavior in either bees or people, but manipulating these genes in honey bees may shed a light on what they do in humans, says Alan Packer, a geneticist at the Simons Foundation in New York City, told Science Magazine. The study lays a foundation for studying complex behaviors to better understand the underlying genes that give rise to these behaviors.