Societies to genes? And how do you get from there to here?
Noted honey bee geneticist Robert E. Page Jr., a UC Davis and Arizona State University emeritus professor and administrator, has authored a newly published, invited article in the journal Geneticson “Societies to Genes: Can We Get There from Here?” that highlights his three-decade scientific career.
“I was thrilled to be invited to write this perspectives/review of my scientific career; it is a collection of 30 years of single-minded focus on one question,” said Page, who is renowned for his research on honey bee behavior and population genetics, particularly the evolution of complex social behavior, and for his work on the first genomic map of the honey bee.
"The editors contacted me to write a perspectives/review that focuses on my own work, a study in complex adaptation,” Page related. “This is the first time they have done a perspectives article like this. I was, of course, honored. More than half of the work was done at UC Davis.”
“Understanding the organization and evolution of social complexity is a major task because it requires building an understanding of mechanisms operating at different levels of biological organization from genes to social interactions,” Page wrote in his abstract. “I discuss here, a unique forward genetic approach spanning more than 30 years beginning with human-assisted colony-level selection for a single social trait, the amount of pollen honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) store. The goal was to understand a complex social trait from the social phenotype to genes responsible for observed trait variation.”
“The approach,” Page wrote, “combined the results of colony-level selection with detailed studies of individual behavior and physiology resulting in a mapped, integrated phenotypic architecture composed of correlative relationships between traits spanning anatomy, physiology, sensory response systems, and individual behavior that affect individual foraging decisions. Colony-level selection reverse engineered the architecture of an integrated phenotype of individuals resulting in changes in the social trait. Quantitative trait locus (QTL) studies combined with an exceptionally high recombination rate (60 kb/cM), and a phenotypic map, provided a genotype–phenotype map of high complexity demonstrating broad QTL pleiotropy, epistasis, and epistatic pleiotropy suggesting that gene pleiotropy or tight linkage of genes within QTL integrated the phenotype. Gene expression and knockdown of identified positional candidates revealed genes affecting foraging behavior and confirmed one pleiotropic gene, a tyramine receptor, as a target for colony-level selection that was under selection in two different tissues in two different life stages. The approach presented here has resulted in a comprehensive understanding of the structure and evolution of honey bee social organization.”
Page, who received his doctorate in entomology (1980) from UC Davis, joined the UC Davis entomology faculty in 1989, and chaired the department from 1999-2004. In 2004, Arizona State University recruited him as founding director of its School of Life Sciences. His career advanced from dean of Life Sciences, to vice provost and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to university provost. Today he holds the titles of ASU provost emeritus, ASU Regents professor emeritus, and UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor, an award bestowed in 2019.
For 24 years, from 1989 to 2015, Page maintained a UC Davis honey bee-breeding program, managed by bee breeder-geneticist Kim Fondrk at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. Together they discovered a link between social behavior and maternal traits in bees.
In his article, he mentions: "I studied the behavioral genetics of pollen storage in honey bees for more than 30 years. The effort was collective with my technician and colleague Kim Fondrk and numerous students and postdoctoral researchers. We used a forward genetic approach and employed bidirectional, human-assisted selection that resulted in the establishment of two strains that varied in their expression of a social phenotype. We focused on just one trait, the amount of pollen stored in the nest, a social trait that is a consequence of the interactions of thousands of bees. There are about 10–40 thousand worker bees in a honey bee colony, depending on the time of year. Honey bee colonies have a reproductive division of labor where the single queen normally lays the eggs while the workers are facultatively sterile."
"Young larvae produce pheromones (chemical signals) that stimulate some of the foragers to collect pollen (Traynor et al. 2015)," he explained. "The amount of pollen stored, the number of cells that are full, affects the number of larvae that are raised and inhibits pollen foraging, thus stored pollen is regulated (Fewell and Winston 1992). Returning pollen foragers perform recruitment dances that communicate the distance and direction from the nest to their pollen sources. Other bees attend the dances and are recruited. So, the amount of stored pollen is dependent on the interactions of thousands of individual adults and larvae and is not a phenotypic trait of any individual—it is a social phenotype."
Page has authored than 250 research papers, including five books: among them, The Spirit of the Hive: The Mechanisms of Social Evolution, published by Harvard University Press in 2013. His most recent book is The Art of the Bee: Shaping the Environment from Landscapes to Societies, published by Oxford University Press 2020. (See news release on why bees are both artists and engineers.)
Page is a highly cited author on such topics as Africanized bees, genetics and evolution of social organization, sex determination, and division of labor in insect societies.
There's a lot of interest building in this seminar.
He will be hosted by fellow bee scientist Brian Johnson, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Zayed leads a research program on honey bee behavioral genetics and genomics. In his talk, Zayed will summarize his group's recent findings on patterns of positive selection in the honey bee genome, and show how integrative genomic analyses can be used to chart the bee's genotype-phenotype map.
Zayed completed his bachelor's degree in environmental science with honors in 2000, and his doctorate in biology in 2006, both at York University. He was awarded the Governor General's prestigious Gold Medal in 2007 for his doctoral research on bee conservation genetics.
Zayed held a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada's Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Illinois' Department of Entomology from 2006 to 2008 in Charles Whitfield's Laboratory. He then served as a fellow for the Institute for Genomic Biology's Genomics of Neural and Behavioral Plasticity Theme (theme leader: Gene Robinson) at the University of Illinois from 2008 to 2009.
Zayed rejoined York University's Department of Biology as an assistant professor in 2009. He earned the Ontario Government of Research and Innovation's Early Researcher Award in 2010, and was promoted to associate professor in 2014. He received the Ontario Government of Research and Innovation's Early Researcher Award in 2010.
This isn't Zayed's first time visiting the UC Davis campus. A few years ago, he completed a queen bee instrumental insemination course, taught from bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, then with the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, and now with Washington State University.
Plans call for recording the seminar for later posting on UCTV. Coordinating the seminars is professor Steve Nadler. For a list of the next speakers, see this page.
A honey bee, that is.
Research entomologist Jay Evans of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS) will discuss "What's It Like Inside a Bee? Genetic Approaches to Honey Bee Health" at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 4 in 122 Briggs Hall.
The Marin County Beekeepers will host the bee scientist.
"Honey bees are the preferred agricultural pollinators worldwide, and are important natural pollinators in Europe, Asia, and Africa," Evans says. "The European honey bee, Apis mellifera, is both aided and abused by humans, leading to a worldwide distribution on one side, and alarming regional die-offs on the other. Primary causes of honey bee colony death range from inadequate nutrition to stress from chemical exposure and maladies caused by a diverse set of parasites and pathogens."
"Often, domesticated honey bees face two or more stress agents simultaneously. Genetic approaches are being used to determine and mitigate the causes of bee declines. Genetics screens are available for each of the major biotic threats to bees, and screens have been used to determine risk levels for these threats in the field. Thanks to extensive analyses of the honey bee genome, tools are also available to screen bees for heritable traits that enable disease resistance, and to query the expressed genes of bees to infer responses to chemicals and biological stress. This talk will cover genetic insights into honey bee health, disease resistance and susceptibility to chemical insults."
Evans received his undergraduate degree in biology at Princeton and his doctorate in biology from the University of Utah. He did a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Georgia, where he became interested in honey bees. After a brief project on queen production at the University of Arizona, he joined the USDA/ARS as a research entomologist with the USDA-ARS Bee Research Laboratory, Beltsville, MD.
He is especially interested in insect immunity and in the abilities of social insects to evade their many parasites and pathogens. He focuses his projects on a range of bee pests including the American foulbrood bacterium, small hive beetles, nosema, viral pests and varroa mites.
Evans was an early proponent of the Honey Bee Genome Project and helped recruit and organize scientists interested in applied genomics for bees. He has improved and applied genetic screens for possible causes of colony collapse disorder and is now heading a consortium to sequence the genome of the Varroa mite in order to develop novel control methods for this key pest.
Plans call for recording the seminar for later posting on UCTV.