Bloch and his team thought that changing the nurse bees' social environment might alter their activity levels, so they separated them from their larvae. The researchers found that the bees' cellular rhythms and behavior completely changed, matching a more typical circadian cycle. The opposite also was true, when other bees were transferred into a nursing function.
"Our findings show that circadian rhythms of honey bees are altered by signals from the brood that are transferred by close or direct contact," Bloch said. "This flexibility in the bees' clock is striking, given that humans and most other animals studied cannot sustain long periods of around-the-clock activity without deterioration in performance and an increase in disease."
Because bees and mammals' circadian clocks use the same clock genes and are similarly organized, the question arises as to whether the clocks of other animals also strongly depend on their social environments. The next step is to find just how social interactions influence gene expressions. Further research into this question may have implications for humans who suffer from disturbances in their behavioral, sleeping and waking cycles.
|Contact: Jerry Barach|
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem