Honey bee appreciating defence strategies other than immunity

The honey bee genome allowed the comparative analysis of an insect separated from Diptera by over 300 million years of evolution. Compared to the Dipteran genomes, the honey bee appears to have evolved slowly: the mean sequence identity of its single-copy orthologues with human genes is higher than that between fruit fly and human, or mosquito and human. Moreover, the honey bee retains more ancient introns, and its gene losses and gains appear to be lower than in Diptera (HGSC, 2006). The honey bee genome has allowed a unique comparison of the immune repertoires between social and solitary insects. Behavioural studies of honey bees and other social insects have highlighted strategies that may have evolved to protect them against disease: grooming and nest hygiene habits, prompt removal of infected larvae, and use of antimicrobial compounds in nest-building materials, result in a relatively sterile nest environment and a consequent dramatic reduction in exposure to pathogens. Indeed, the comparative analysis of the honey bee immune repertoire revealed maintenance of the overall architecture of the innate immune system. Genes with key roles in the immune signal transduction pathways are found across the insect orders. This is despite the overall reduction of the immune gene repertoire, which could indicate reduced reliance on immunity for pathogen recognition and elimination. Although members of most immune gene families were identified in the honey bee genome, including orthologues of the majority of pathway components, the total repertoire size in the honey bee is only one-third of the fruit fly's and the malaria mosquito's (Evans et al., 2006). The lack of a large arsenal of immune-related genes encoded in the honey bee genome may be directly compensated by sociality, which in turn may be reflected in enhanced brain function: this is suggested by the existence of four times as many neurons in the honey bee than in the fruit fly, and is consistent with the known complexity of honey bee foraging behaviours (von Frisch, 1974).

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