Toth noted that the P. metricus wasps represent a kind of intermediate stage in the evolution of eusocial behavior. The honey bee colony, in which queens never perform maternal tasks, is considered a more developed form of eusociality.
In Polistes metricus wasps you have behavior thats more similar to what you might see in a maternal ancestor, Toth said. That was really important for our study.
The study team included researchers from 454 Life Sciences, a Connecticut-based company that has pioneered a method for sequencing short segments of DNA.
If you had to do this with a conventional approach it would cost a phenomenal amount of money, said Michael Egholm, vice president for research and development at the company. A miniaturized operation and streamlined process for sequencing the DNA makes the new approach much more economical, he said.
Rather than focus on the entire wasp genome, which would be costly, the research team focused on those genes that were expressed in wasp brains in high enough quantities to be detected and sequenced using the new approach. They then relied on a team of bioinformaticians in the department of crop sciences to make sense of the data.
This was a challenge, said crop sciences professor Matt Hudson, who specializes in bioinformatics and genomics. The new technique produced DNA fragments that were much shorter than those typically used. Because very little genetic data was available on this species of wasp, Hudson and graduate student Kranthi Varala used a computer algorithm to compare the sequenced gene fragments to sequences from the honey bee genome, which has been fully sequenced. This method allowed them to positively identify in the wasps 32 genes known to be behavior-related in honey bees.
With these data, the researchers were able to compare behavioral gene expression in the brains of foundresses, workers, queens and gynes. (Gynes perf
|Contact: Diana Yates|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign