To Bee

Carl Zimmer in his blog, The Loom:

Honeybee_1To sequence the human genome, scientists established a network of laboratories, equipped with robots that could analyze DNA day and night. Once they began to finish up the human genome a few years ago, they began to wonder what species to sequence next. With millions of species to choose from, they could only pick a handful that would give the biggest bang for the buck. Squabbling ensued, with different coalitions of scientists lobbied for different species. Some argued successfully for medically important species, such as the mosquito that carries malaria. Others made the case for chimpanzees, to help them pinpoint that genes that make us uniquely human. And in 2002, a team of scientists made the case for the humble honeybee.

Why spend millions on the honeybee? For one thing, honeybees are commercially valuable. They make honey, and they pollinate crops. But the honeybee lobby also argued that there were much deeper reasons to sequence its genome. Honeybees lives in societies that rival our own in size and complexity. A single hive may contain as many as 80,000 bees, which together build the hive, gather food, and feed the next generation of bees. They gather nectar from flowers, and they find flowers by merging many sources of information including the position of the sun and the subtle nuances of a flower’s scent. When they come back to their hive, they waggle out a dance to indicate where other honeybees can find the flowers. They manage all this with only a million neurons in their head–a thousandth the number we have.

More here.