As humans we crave companionship and social interaction, much like other mammals such as killer whales and bats. When thinking of insects it’s tempting to think they are from another world, but a new study has shown there are more similarities than we thought. The study shows honey bees and mammals share the common sociability trait due to their genomes.
A team of researchers at the University of Illinois studied the honey bee genome, using new algorithms. Random data sets were compared from 7462 bees against 53 animals. The average number of orthogs were calculated for each data set. Orthogs are genes from different species that evolved from a common ancestral line.
When the study began there were three possible outcomes: The researchers’ tools wouldn’t be able to determine whether bees and mammals share a genomic origin, there wouldn’t be any discernible origin from the data or there would be a match. The researchers found the set of genes responsible for the alarm pheromone in the brains of bees contained a large number of genes found in mammals.
Alarm pheromones are triggered when a bee colony is under threat. Bees release a banana-smelling pheromone when they sting an intruder and it alerts other bees to be on the defensive.
The study proves these genes are widely shared between bees and mammals compared to bees and non-social insects. Bees are useful insects that are good for the environment and we should protect them where we can.