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454 Sequencing(TM) in Science Today: Researchers Uncover a Genetic Basis for Different Social Behaviors in Wasps

BRANFORD, Conn. Sept. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- 454 Life Sciences, a Roche company, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign today announced that they have uncovered genetic underpinnings to social behavior in wasps. Using the company's Genome Sequencer(TM) system, the researchers examined messenger RNA from the brains of wasps and correlated different expression patterns to different social behaviors. The study, entitled "Wasp brain gene expression supports an evolutionary link between maternal behavior and eusociality," appears online (ahead of print) today in the journal Science.

The presence of workers that forgo reproduction and care for their siblings is a defining feature of eusociality and a major challenge for evolutionary theory. It has been proposed that worker behavior evolved from maternal care behavior. The researchers explored this idea by studying gene expression (what genes are active and to what extent) in wasps. Gene expression in workers was more similar to foundresses, which show maternal care, than to queens and gynes, which do not. Insulin-related genes were among those genes showing a distinct pattern, suggesting that the evolution of eusociality involves major nutritional and reproductive pathways.

"Our goal was to test the prediction that maternal and worker (eusocial) behaviors share a common molecular basis," explained Gene Robinson, PhD., senior author and G. William Arends Professor of Integrative Biology and Director of the Neuroscience Program at the University of Illinois. "We used 454 Sequencing, together with the recently sequenced honey bee genome, to rapidly bring genomics to a model social organism, the wasp. This research is an early example of the utility of 454 sequencing for transcriptomics."

"The Genome Sequencer generates hundreds of thousands of long, highly- accurate reads in a single run, giving researchers unprecedented detail and accuracy for transcriptome profiling and gene expression applications," explained Michael Egholm, Ph.D., Vice President of Research and Development at 454 Life Sciences. "These and other applications enabled by 454 Sequencing are opening the door on social genomics. We are going to learn about how social behavior is coded in the genome and how it has evolved, which could have a lot of relevance to understanding human behavior."

454 Life Sciences develops and commercializes the innovative Genome Sequencer(TM) system for ultra-high-throughput DNA sequencing. Specific applications include de novo sequencing and re-sequencing of whole genomes, metagenomics, RNA analysis, and targeted sequencing of DNA regions of interest. The hallmarks of 454 Sequencing(TM) are its simple, unbiased sample preparation and long, highly accurate sequence reads, including paired reads. 454 Sequencing technology has enabled many peer-reviewed studies in diverse research fields such as: cancer research, infectious diseases research, drug discovery, marine biology, anthropology, paleontology, and many more.

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About Roche and the Roche Diagnostics Division

Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Roche is one of the world's leading research-focused healthcare groups in the fields of pharmaceuticals and diagnostics. As the world's biggest biotech company and an innovator of products and services for the early detection, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases, the Group contributes on a broad range of fronts to improving people's health and quality of life. Roche is the world leader in in-vitro diagnostics and drugs for cancer and transplantation, a market leader in virology and active in other major therapeutic areas such as autoimmune diseases, inflammation, metabolism and central nervous system. In 2006 sales by the Pharmaceuticals Division totaled 33.3 billion Swiss francs, and the Diagnostics Division posted sales of 8.7 billion Swiss francs. Roche employs roughly 75,000 worldwide and has R&D agreements and strategic alliances with numerous partners, including majority ownership interests in Genentech and Chugai. Roche's Diagnostics Division offers a uniquely broad product portfolio and supplies a wide array of innovative testing products and services to researchers, physicians, patients, hospitals and laboratories world-wide. For further information, please visit our website at

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