Social behavior and the evolution of neuropeptide genes: lessons from the honeybee genome



Honeybees display a fascinating social behavior. The structural basis for this behavior, which made the bee a model organism for the study of communication, learning and memory formation, is the tiny insect brain. Neurons of the brain communicate via messenger molecules. Among these molecules, neuropeptides represent the structurally most-diverse group and occupy a high hierarchic position in the modulation of behavior. A recent analysis of the honeybee genome revealed a considerable number of predicted (200) and confirmed (100) neuropeptides in this insect.1 Is this quantity merely the result of advanced mass spectrometric techniques and bioinformatic tools or does it reflect the expression of more of these important messenger molecules, more than known from other insects studied so far? Our analysis of the data suggests that the social behavior is by no means correlated with a specific increase in the number of neuropeptides. Indeed, the honeybee genome is likely to contain fewer neuropeptide genes, neuropeptide paralogues and neuropeptide receptor genes than the solitary fruitfly Drosophila. BioEssays 29:416–421, 2007. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.