Antisocial bees could aid the study of autism in humans

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A new study reveals that [antisocial bees] share a genetic profile with people who have autism spectrum disorders, which can affect how well they respond to social situations.

Hagai Shpigler, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Illinois in Urbana, [..] and colleagues video recorded a group of bees and analyzed each individual’s reaction to a social situation.

Most bees reacted to at least one situation, but about 14% were unresponsive to both.

They found a distinctive subset of genes was active in the nonresponsive bees. Then they compared that set of genes to sets of genes implicated in autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, and depression.

There was a good match only between the gene activity of the nonresponsive bees and genes associated with autism. Some of the genes involved help regulate the flow of ions in and out of the cells, particularly nerve cells; others code for so-called heat shock proteins that are typically induced during stress.

The researchers don’t yet know how exactly these genes influence social behavior in either bees or people, but manipulating the genes in honey bees may shed light on what they do in humans, says Alan Packer, a geneticist at the Simons Foundation in New York City, which funds autism research, including this bee work…

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