Research: Bees can reschedule biological clocks

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Honeybees, unlike many humans, after switching work shifts, or after a long flight, seem to be able to reschedule their biological clocks without many troubles.

Guy Bloch, professor with the Hebrews University's Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior is investigating why bees can make that internal switch, and how that ability can help sleepyheads like us, as the disturbance of the circadian rhythm can result in depression and similar mood disorders.

Writing in the latest edition of the Journal of Neuroscience, Bloch and his team of researchers have discovered that changes in both the bees' behavior and in the "clock genes" that drive their internal biological clocks showed that their social environment strongly affected their behavior.

While just a few "clock genes" in both humans and honeybees control sleep, eating and drinking, temperature regulation and hormone fluctuations, how that activity ties in with social interactions with other animals is still unknown.

"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," Bloch said.

And why bees? It turns out that honeybees have a complex social circle, including the role of "nurse" in bee society, who take care of larvae at any moment. This pattern is different from other bees and animals whose activity levels rise and fall throughout the day, the professor said.

Bloch and his team found that separating the nurse bees from their larvae brought about a clear change in their cellular rhythms and behavior, matching a more typical circadian cycle. The changes worked in the opposite direction as well, when other bees were moved to take care of the larvae.

"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.

Which leaves us with a question of whether other animals' internal clocks are also affected by their social environments, a question Bloch and his researchers want to find out.

The research was supported by the Israeli Science Foundation, the Israel-U.S. Binational Science Foundation, and the German Israel Foundation, according to a statement from the university.

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