Bees are social insects working for the good of the colony. Do they have no personality at all? It seems that some of them can get a taste of freedom to select their tasks during their flights exploration. More surprisingly, this need for novelty would be controled by the same molecules (catecholamine, GABA or glutamate) in vertebrates.
Bees, Apis mellifera, live communally in hives containing on average 40,000 to 60,000 individuals. They form societies where each group takes a specific role. The workers involved successively in several tasks, ranging from providing care for the larvae (nourishing activity) to harvest of pollen and nectar. They are then referred to as foragers. Faced with cohesion uniting, a question arises: Does every individual own personality or is it so stereotyped?
Within the hive, worker populations are increasing to a level of overcrowding. The colony is divided into two. The newly trained swarm goes in search of a site to colonize. Researchers at the University of Illinois, led by Gene Robinson, noted that some bees seemed brave during this phase. Almost 5% of the whole swarm literally are an adventurous. More surprisingly, once in place the new hive, the insects continue to explore their environment in search of food. The figures show the bees have explored to find a new nest were 3.4 times more likely to become specialists in food scouts, compared to foraging bees. Do they have a taste of liberty?
The researchers wanted to establish the existence of molecular differences between explorers and foragers. They then compared the expression of their genes. Against all odds, they found thousands of differences. Some of them particularly caught their attention. The explorers do indeed produce molecules involved in the reward-driven and the novelty-seeking behavior in vertebrates and thus in humans. These results are published in the journal Science.
Bees and men equal before liberty
Among the genes expressed by bees explorers, certain expressions related to catecholamines, glutamate and gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) – these moleculars pathways regulate novelty-seeking in mammals and humans. These chemicals exmined in the brain are known to influence the level of reward a person feels when seeking new experiences.
But are we sure that these molecules play the role assigned to them? Yes, further tests have confirmed. The researchers modified the signals expressed in the brain of insects by exposing them to different substances. The team further discovered that treating bees so that levels of glutamate and octopamine (equivalent to noradrenaline) would be higher by 73% and 37% caused non-scout bees ( forager ) to start exploring. However, when they blocked the pleasure chemical dopamine, the bees scouted 44% less than before.
The metabolic pathways involved in the novel- seeking in bees are indeed the same as in humans and other vertebrates. This feature has evolved independently among different groups, while the molecular basis would have remained the same. So, the bees have their own personality. Nevertheless, exploratory behavior are necessary for the survival of the hive as they allow to find new food sources or to colonize new sites. So everyone comes out so winner.
Other Sources to read of this topic sciencedaily