Honey Bees and Humans Share Social Genetic Profile

A discussion of a recent article documenting profoundly unexpected genetic similarities between antisocial honey bees and humans with autism spectrum disorders, and its implications for evolutionary theory and future research.

Honey bees are highly social creatures, with very sophisticated interactions and division of labor.

How Did Social Behavior Evolve?

Evolution promoters (or at least their theistic brand) love to quote Dobzhansky's famous essay title: "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution". If it were true, one would expect to see new findings in molecular biology and genetics fitting nicely within the big evolutionary theory picture. The theory should be able to make predictions that would be confirmed by subsequent findings. After all, this is how a theory is validated or falsified.

This time around, I would like to introduce you to a very interesting recent piece of research that, unfortunately for evolutionists, does quite the opposite of what Dobzhansky claimed. First, here is what the theory predicted (emphasis here and other places mine):

"Given the immense phylogenetic distance of humans from social insects, their common behavioral and life-history traits have thus far usually been ascribed to convergence, whereby shared selective pressures drive the evolution of social similarities despite highly divergent genetic and morphological substrates." (Shared sociogenetic basis of honey bee behavior and human risk for autism).

To put it in simpler terms, what Mr. Bernard J. Crespi (professor of evolutionary biology at Simon Fraser University) is trying to say above is, one would not expect to find similar genetic profiles accounting for social behavior in honey bees and humans, simply because they are sitting on branches of the evolutionary tree of life that are way too far apart from each other. (You may have noticed the term "convergence" thrown in there, which is a convenient, evidence-free concept used by evolutionists to explain similarities between unrelated species. Unfortunately, the findings described below cannot be explained away by convergence alone.)

The Data...

In a remarkably simple but ingenious series of experiments, Hagai Shpigler, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Illinois (UI) in Urbana, video taped honey bees from seven colonies and tested individual bees responses to a couple of social situations typical for them. In the first scenario, a unfamiliar bee was introduced in the group, with the normal reaction of the other bees being to attack or at least surround the foreign bee. In the second, they introduced an immature queen larva in the hive, causing the other bees to start feeding and caring for it (alloparenting instinct). What they were looking for were bees that were not engaging in the expected behavior, i.e. unresponsive bees.

He and his team then studied the genetic expression of over 1,000 genes from a region of these bees' brain involved in multimodal sensory integration and recently implicated in honey bee social behavior. They found that socially unresponsive bees had a consistently different profile of these genes, compared to the other bees. Moreover,

"the magnitude of this difference was unexpected as the bees tested were highly related to one another due to haplodiploidy and artificial insemination; they also were laboratory reared until testing and exposed to the same stimuli simultaneously. " (Deep evolutionary conservation of autism-related genes).

What they did next is where the interesting part starts: they examined the overlap between the socially unresponsive bees' gene list and several previously published human autism spectrum disorder (ASD) gene sets. And, guess what? They overlapped very nicely, and the more confidently the human genetic profiles were associated with ASD, the more statistically significant the overlap with that of unresponsive bees was!

"Profoundly Unexpected..."

How does this fit with the predictions of evolutionary theory? Not very well:

"These findings were profoundly unexpected, but in retrospect make sense in terms of genetic "toolkits": sets of master genes that build phenotypes, across lineages, as modular variations upon common themes..." (Shared sociogenetic basis of honey bee behavior and human risk for autism).

It is hard to ignore the teleological dissonance of the statement above, in the context of random mutations and natural selection as the drivers of evolution. Try to envision how an essentially random process, such as a mutation (remember, natural selection has nothing to act upon until AFTER random mutations occurred) creates genetic toolkits to build body plans and molecular structures that generate such highly complex processes as social behaviors... As for natural selection doing it, I highly recommend John Sanford's Genetic Entropy book to understand why this is no better than magical thinking, at best...

It makes a lot more sense to explain these "overlapping human–insectan phenotypes, which include divisions of labor, alloparental care, extensive food sharing, group-colony structures, collective decision making, and complex social cooperation", as expressions of similar "genetic tookits" used by an intelligent Creator in different species, for similar purposes.

Evolutionary story telling aside, these findings have the potential to have real life implication for people with autism. And, as I have said before, if it were not for the misleading predictions of evolutionary theory, it is very likely these "profoundly unexpected" facts would have been discovered years, if not decades ago, and, who knows, by now we would have had much better treatments, if not a cure, for conditions like autism...

Gily Ionescu, MS, MD.