Molecular mechanisms and molecular evolution of social behavior, using social insects as a model. Natural variation in individual behavior. High throughput genotyping and gene expression analyses.
My lab studies the molecular mechanisms that underlie social behavior, and is attempting to identify the genes and gene regulatory elements that have been gained, lost, or modified in the evolution of socially organized behavior. An important feature of social organization is division of labor, which involves variation in role (or behavioral repertoire) between individuals in a group. In social insects (bees, ants, wasps and termites) and in some mammals (mole-rats), division of labor involves both morphological differentiation (castes) and behavioral specialization in the absence of morphological differentiation. In the honey bee colony (Apis ), individuals within the same morphological caste (workers) specialize on different tasks such as cleaning cells, feeding larvae (nursing), building comb, storing food, ventilating the hive, guarding the hive, removing dead bees (undertaking), or foraging for food and water. These individual behavioral phenotypes are semi-stable, lasting for hours, days, or weeks, and are a product of intrinsic factors (age and genotype) and extrinsic factors (social cues and the physical environment). Because these factors can be manipulated in a naturalistic social context in the colony, the honey bee provides an ideal model system to study how nature and nurture shape complex behavior, underlie variation between individuals, and contribute to structure in a highly organized animal society.
Zayed A, Whitfield CW. A genome-wide signature of positive selection in ancient and recent invasive expansions of the honey bee, Apis mellifera. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008. Mar 4; 105(9): 3421-6.
Sen Sarma M, Whitfield CW, Robinson GE. Species differences in brain gene expression profiles associated with adult behavioral maturation in honey bees. BMC Genomics. 2007. Jun 29;8:202.
Whitfield CW, Behura SK, Berlocher SH, Clark AG, Johnston JS, Sheppard WS, Smith DR, Suarez AV, Weaver D, Tsutsui ND. Thrice out of Africa: ancient and recent expansions of the honey bee, Apis mellifera.Science. 2006. Oct 27; 314(5799):642-5.
Honeybee Genome Sequencing Consortium. Insights into social insects from the genome of the honeybee Apis mellifera. nature.6. Oct 26; 443(7114):931-49. (Leader, Population Genetics and SNPs section)
Whitfield CW, Ben-Shahar Y, Brillet C, Leoncini I, Crauser D, Leconte Y, Rodriguez-Zas S, Robinson GE. Genomic dissection of behavioral maturation in the honey bee. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006. Oct 31; 103(44):16068-75.
Sinha S, Ling X, Whitfield CW, Zhai C, Robinson GE. Genome scan for cis-regulatory DNA motifs associated with social behavior in honey bees. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006. Oct 31; 103(44):16352-7.
Rodriguez-Zas SL, Southey BR, Whitfield CW, Robinson GE. Semiparametric approach to characterize unique gene expression trajectories across time. BMC Genomics. 2006. Sep 13; 7:233.
Robinson GE, Grozinger CM, Whitfield CW. Sociogenomics: social life in molecular terms. Nat Rev Gen. 2005. Apr; 6(4):257-70.
Cash A, Whitfield CW, Ismail N, and Robinson GE. Behavior and the limits of genomic plasticity: power and replicability in microarray analysis of honey bee brains. Genes, Brain and Behavior. In press.
Grozinger CM, Sharabash NM, Whitfield CW, and Robinson GE. 2003. Pheromone-mediated gene expression in the honey bee brain. PNAS 100:14519-25.
Whitfield CW, Cziko AM, and Robinson GE. 2003. Gene expression profiles in the brain predict behavior in individual honey bees. Science 302(5643):296-99.
Whitfield CW, Band MR, Bonaldo MF, Kumar CG, Liu L, Pardinas JR, Robertson HM, Soares MB, and Robinson GE. 2002. Annotated expressed sequence tags and cDNA microarrays for studies of brain and behavior in the honey bee. Genome Research 12(6):555-66. (cover story)