Genes Found That Respond To Distance

A new study from the University of Illinois shows that gene expression in a bee’s brain changes when the bee perceives long and short distances.  The researchers used an ingenious little trick –  If the bee’s environment is “busy” (patterned walls with lots of disordered images) rather than “sparse” (walls with a more plain pattern), it perceives its traveling distance as longer.  This perception is measured by looking at the bee’s “dance,” the behavior it uses to communicate the location of food sources.  The dances are different in both experimental situations, even though both distances are the same.  Furthermore, gene expression in brain areas involved in vision and memory differs between the two environments, implying that there are genetic factors responsive to distance (and apparently prone to error).  This work furthers the idea the genome isn’t merely a static set of instructions for organisms – it’s dynamic and responsive.

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Sam McDougle

SAM MCDOUGLE is a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology and Neuroscience at Princeton University. His writing has appeared in Vice and The Atlantic.

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