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When worker honeybees change jobs their DNA changes.
September 18, 2012 2:14 AM   Subscribe

When worker honeybees change jobs their DNA changes. The DNA change seems reversible and epigenetic in nature.
posted by aleph (28 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sorry. Lines got swapped. First evidence I'm aware of where a shift in behavior is tied to a (reversible) shift in DNA.
posted by aleph at 2:16 AM on September 18, 2012


I imagine, arrayed in great rows somewhere, the pillars of the bee genome. Blinking lights go down the rows and reach a branch point - will this bee be a worker? Or a nurse?

IF IS_WORKER_METHYL_ON GOTO WORKER_FUNCTION

Nightmares.

In all truth, excellent stuff.
posted by 23 at 2:24 AM on September 18, 2012


Just to be clear, it's not DNA itself that changes, but its methylation pattern, a series of molecules attached to DNA. This is not an example of how the "central dogma" is wrong, which would be the case if the title of this post would be literally correct.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:30 AM on September 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


research published today in Nature Neuroscience reveals the first example of reversible changes to DNA associated with behaviour.

Time perhaps to launch a new journal called "Nuture Neuroscience".
posted by three blind mice at 2:49 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Epigenetics is pretty fascinating. There's a Stuff You Should Know podcast episode on it for anyone interested (you can listen here - direct mp3 link). I generally recommend the podcast and think it makes sometimes-complicated stuff pretty accessible, and so far as I'm aware they got everything right with that episode.

If I'm reading this right, the bees' DNA changed twice within its lifetime due to a change in the roles it was acting out? If so... damn. The idea that actual DNA could change within one's lifetime and due to changes in behavior is pretty mind-blowing.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 3:41 AM on September 18, 2012


If I learned one thing studying genomics, it's this:

In biology, there's always another bit.

If I learned two things, it's:

Biology laughs at your dogma.
posted by effugas at 4:02 AM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


(You are what you express.)
posted by effugas at 4:02 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Okay, sort of fixed up the title/link text mixup.]
posted by taz at 4:09 AM on September 18, 2012


So not only does the DNA not actually change, but the post and article both seem to be using "epigenetic" incorrectly. The changes described here are not heritable. New baby bees still start off as being able to be either worker or queen.
posted by DU at 4:18 AM on September 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Whenever I read a science headline FPP, I cringe a little and click, hoping that a scientifically literate Mefite has already appeared to patiently explain in more detail.

So phew.
posted by discopolo at 4:51 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a brave new world for bees.
posted by jaduncan at 5:10 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man, I've changed jobs so many times that if this DNA thing was the same for humans, my DNA would be like.... WHOA!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:23 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


So not only does the DNA not actually change, but the post and article both seem to be using "epigenetic" incorrectly. The changes described here are not heritable. New baby bees still start off as being able to be either worker or queen.

Why would the DNA of a worker bee have any impact on new bees being born to begin with though? The DNA used to produce new offspring comes from the female queen and male drones, not female workers. It seems like any DNA changes in worker bees would irrelevant to reproduction, which makes it very plausible that worker bees specifically could have radical changes done to their DNA and not have to worry about possible complications in the reproduction process.
posted by burnmp3s at 5:29 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


A new dystopian future to look forward to, comrades!
posted by b1tr0t at 5:33 AM on September 18, 2012


The second sentence of the FPP should read: "The DNA methylation change is reversible and, for the first time that they know of, is associated with behavior."

And it's not clear from the article what caused what.
posted by Mercaptan at 5:45 AM on September 18, 2012


Uncontrolled methylation of DNA is no joke. Magic Methyl, in incredibly small doses, is kind of like an evil magic 8-ball for your DNA. Upon random methylation of your DNA, instead of worker status, it will pick from a variety of cancers and other genetic abnormalities and give them to you!

As it stands, above 5 ppm it will likely kill you.....
posted by lalochezia at 5:50 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


The changes described here are not heritable. New baby bees still start off as being able to be either worker or queen.

Ah, b-equality.
posted by ersatz at 6:13 AM on September 18, 2012


Ah! The age old question, to bee or not to bee?



Also: What do bees use to fix their hair?
Honeycomb.
posted by humannaire at 6:18 AM on September 18, 2012


Yeah, most things you learn in high school (or even undergraduate) biology are drastic oversimplifications, but that's even more true of DNA than most things.

DNA isn't a recipe for making an organism. It's more like a master chef's cryptic notes to herself.
posted by straight at 6:34 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


So bees are the Hulk? COOL!
posted by stormpooper at 6:47 AM on September 18, 2012


Lamarck shall rise again!
posted by Naberius at 7:41 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I understand how this is ground-breaking... Isn't this pretty much how DNA methylation works? It makes total sense to me that bees doing different biochemically driven tasks would be accessing a different part of the genome. Am I mentally over-simplifying this? To my brain, methylation = histones = access to DNA.

I need to get back to actual work now, but has anyone taken a look at the paper?
posted by maryr at 8:03 AM on September 18, 2012


PS: Wow, nature.com is like the bizzarro universe version of news article comments.
posted by maryr at 8:04 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Biology laughs at your dogma.

Yes, only not this time.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:55 AM on September 18, 2012


I believe that it's the actuual nucleotides getting methylated here rather than the histones, but it's a similar concept.
posted by Scientist at 10:53 AM on September 18, 2012


Just to be clear, it's not DNA itself that changes, but its methylation pattern, a series of molecules attached to DNA.

If we're going to be pedants about biochemistry, then referring to methylation as "a series of molecules attached to DNA" is right out. DNA (not histone) methylation involves the covalent attachment of methyl groups to DNA molecules. In other words, the chemical structure of a DNA molecule is changed when that molecule is methylated.

So not only does the DNA not actually change, but the post and article both seem to be using "epigenetic" incorrectly. The changes described here are not heritable.

Methylation can be heritable (and therefore epigenetic). It is not in this case because, of course, worker bees do not reproduce.

It may still be "epigenetic" on a cellular level, however, if methylation persists through cell division.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:03 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


At DU and others talking about whether changing DNA methylation in a non-heritable fashion is an epigenetic change, see the intro to this paper: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22239229. The definition of epigenetic is up for debate. In social insects, the worker bees are sterile, so there could be no heritable anything in them. Yet, as Bonasio argues in the paper, the changes that exist in, say, ants and neurons, are biologically the same as those in truly heritable epigenetics, so it's still accurate and useful to call them epigenetic. His opinion (and mine); other may disagree.
posted by Buckt at 2:11 PM on September 18, 2012


DNA isn't a recipe for making an organism. It's more like a master chef's cryptic notes to herself.

Personally, I'd like to compare the genome to a chef's inventory of equipment, supplies, and techniques. Methylation of individual genes is like someone 'nicking a piece of equipment so it's unavailable, or someone revealing a hidden recipe or hidden ingredient. Methylation of histones is like rearranging a boutique pastry kitchen into a commercial bakery or - described here - possibly more drastically like into a burger and fries place.
posted by porpoise at 5:16 PM on September 18, 2012


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