Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The genome of the bee: like and unlike the human

The Loom has a terrific post on the recently sequenced bee genome. Emphases mine. A must read for everyone. Bees are sometimes like flies, sometimes like us  …

The Loom : To Bee

... The honeybee genome is the product of billions of years of evolution, as is the genome of every other living species. Humans and honeybees share a common ancestor that has been estimated to have lived 600 million years ago. While our ancestors evolved into fish and then moved on land, the honeybee's ancestors evolved into crustacean-like ocean-dwelling animals, some of which moved ashore and became insects. Early lineages of flying insects had fixed wings, represented today by dragonflies. The ancestors of honeybees evolved folded wings, and one lineage of the folded-wing insects evolved larvae about 300 million years ago. This lineage gave rise to many of the most common insects today, including beetles, ants, flies, mosquitoes, wasps, and bees. ...

… One of the biggest surprises of the honeybee genome project is how much like humans they are--at least compared to other insects. Fruit flies and mosquitoes have undergone a much faster rate of evolution than honeybees. In addition, they have also lost many genes that honeybees and other animals--including humans--have preserved. The genome team identified that 762 genes in the honeybee that are also found in mammals but have been lost in flies. (This is the nice thing about studying genomes: there's nowhere for missing genes to hide. If they're gone, they're gone.)

The similarities between honeybees and humans go beyond retained genes, however. Many of their genes work much like ours. The honeybee's body clock, for example, uses the same system of genes we do, while fruit flies use a different set. It appears that the common ancestor of insects and humans had two systems of genes for telling time. Fruit flies lost one system, while honeybees and vertebrates lost the other….

I want to know how their immune system works. There’s intense interest in how bees fight bacteria, viruses and other parasites.

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