Honey bee's 'navigation' gene revealed

A new study, conducted by the researchers from the University of Illinois, has revealed the gene that may be responsible for the ability of honey bees to navigate in unfamiliar surroundings.

Honey bees supposedly use a regulatory gene, known as Egr, to learn more about their surrounding environment. Whenever the bees try to navigate in an unknown environment, the gene expression rises in the brain. This Egr factor is quite similar to the transcription factor in mammals, induction of which is associated with neuronal activity of the brain.

The fact that honey bees use the sun as a reference point to navigate around is known since a long time, and it was also thought that this very activity could also be responsible for helping the bees find food, and help their other fellow bees find it too.

The researchers further concluded that the honey bees used this gene for the sole purpose of determining and making navigation in unknown environments easy; not in other activities such as flying or memorizing visual cues.

"This discovery gives us an important lead in figuring out how honey bees are able to navigate so well, with such a tiny brain," Gene Robinson, a professor of entomology and Neuro science and director of the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois said.

This study, published in The Journal of Experimental Biology, helped scientists gain insight into how the activity of this particular gene- Egr, managed to increase a region of the honey bee brain known as mushroom bodies, whenever they tried to settle themselves into an unknown environment.

 "And finding that it's Egr, with all that this gene is known to do in vertebrates, provides another demonstration that some of the molecular mechanisms underlying behavioral plasticity are deeply conserved in evolution," Robinson added.

This study, in particular, could be tremendously helpful to scientists and help pave way for future gene studies.

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