Autistic Bees

Yes, you read that title right. Researchers looking to prove the sociobiological theories of E. O. Wilson that social behaviors have a deep genetic source have found that socially unresponsive bees have genetic similarities to autistic human beings. Most notably, there were similarities in GABA receptors, voltage-gated ion channels, and heat-shock proteinsheat-shock proteins.

Variations in voltage-gated ion channels are going to affect the speed at which neurons work. This can result in hyperactivation (intense world) or hypoactivation, or even inactivation, if altered.

Heat-shock proteins specifically react to stressful conditions, and many are chaperone proteins (which help guide protein folding and, thus protein function). They are up-regulated during stressful conditions, and given their roles in gene regulation and protein stabilization, it’s not hard to imagine the kinds of detrimental effects changes in these proteins could cause.

The fact that similar differences in similar genes in bees and humans strongly suggests that animal social behavior is deeply conserved. And that means that autistic traits can also emerge in a variety of species when parallel mutations take place.

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