New Worlds: Bees don’t get jet lag

When removed from their usual roles in the hive, the bees were seen to quickly and drastically change their biological rhythms.

Bees 311 Phil Hawkins/Bloomberg (photo credit: Phil Hawkins/Bloomberg)
Bees 311 Phil Hawkins/Bloomberg
(photo credit: Phil Hawkins/Bloomberg)
As any shift worker or new mother can testify, it is very difficult to shift one’s biological clock from its normal day-and-night cycle to something less natural.
Disturbance of the biological clock can also contribute to mood disorders. On a less severe scale, international air travelers all know of the “jet lag” caused by traveling across several time zones.
But honey bees – when thrown into highly time-altered new roles – are able to alter their biological rhythms with alacrity, enabling them to make a successful “quick switch” in their daily routines, according to research carried out at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Bees have now been shown to be highly resilient to such change. When removed from their usual roles in the hive, the bees were seen to quickly and drastically change their biological rhythms, according to a study by Prof. Guy Bloch of HU’s department of ecology, evolution and behavior at the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences. His research is published in the latest edition of The Journal of Neuroscience. The research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation, the Israel-US Binational Science Foundation and the German Israel Foundation.
The changes, he found, were evident in both the bees’ behavior and in the “clock genes” that drive their internal biological clocks. These findings indicate that social environment had a significant effect on the physiology of their behavior.
Circadian rhythm, the body’s “internal clock,” regulates daily functions. A few “clock genes” control many actions, including the time of sleeping, eating and drinking, temperature regulation and hormone fluctuations.
However, exactly how that clock is affected by – and affects – social interactions with other animals is unknown.
Bloch and his colleagues Dr. Yair Shemesh, Ada Eban- Rothschild and Mira Cohen chose to study bees in part because of their complex social environment. One role in bee society is the “nurse” – bees that are busy round the clock caring for larvae. This activity is different from other bees and animals, whose levels rise and fall throughout the day. The researchers 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 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 exchanges influence gene expressions. Further research into this question may have implications for humans who suffer from disturbances in their behavioral, sleeping and waking cycles.
Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan is now offering a unique summer internship program to students enrolled at New York’s Yeshiva University (YU). The first-of-its-kind program will enable talented undergraduate science majors to work in the research group of one of Bar-Ilan’s more than 180 distinguished faculty members in the biological and/or physical sciences.
The program was established to take advantage of the many advanced research capabilities that have been developed at BIU in the past three to five years. Prof.
Chaim Sukenik, the program’s founder and acting director, says it’s important for American students to see the high level of scientific research taking place here in general, and at Bar-Ilan in particular. “We want to afford YU students the opportunity to be involved in cutting-edge research and to understand the special relationship that exists between scientific excellence and the values common to both,” he says.
Select undergraduates from Yeshiva College (for men) and Stern College (for women) will be placed in one of BIU’s research labs in the Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences or Faculty of Exact Sciences. Matching of students to specific research labs will be based on both their credentials and interests, as well as the expertise needed for particular lab settings.
The deadline application is Friday, January 21, 2011, while the program will begin next June and provide students with up to an eight-week research appointment.
Students will be housed at YU’s Gruss Institute in Jerusalem (with daily transportation to be provided between Gruss and Bar-Ilan).

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