A fascinating article on the social science of genetics –
Your DNA is not a blueprint. Day by day, week by week, your genes are in a conversation with your surroundings. Your neighbors, your family, your feelings of loneliness: They don’t just get under your skin, they get into the control rooms of your cells. Inside the new social science of genetics.
That’s how it begins.
And it continues by describing an experiment involving baby European honeybees, baby African killer bees, and genetics.
Here’s the basic recipe: take 250 baby bees of one kind and foster them out to a new family…. and then watch what happens. The results were dramatic:
When he got the cards, says Robinson, “the results were stunning.” For the bees that had been kidnapped, life in a new home had indeed altered the activity of “whole sectors” of genes. When their gene expression data was viewed on the cards alongside the data for groups of bees raised among their own kin, a mere glance showed the dramatic change. Hundreds of genes had flipped colors. The move between hives didn’t just make the bees act differently. It made their genes work differently, and on a broad scale.
What’s more, the cards for the adopted bees of both species came to ever more resemble, as they moved through life, the cards of the bees they moved in with. With every passing day their genes acted more like those of their new hive mates (and less like those of their genetic siblings back home). Many of the genes that switched on or off are known to affect behavior; several are associated with aggression. The bees also acted differently. Their dispositions changed to match that of their hive mates. It seemed the genome, without changing its code, could transform an animal into something very like a different subspecies.
These bees didn’t just act like different bees. They’d pretty much become different bees. To Robinson, this spoke of a genome far more fluid—far more socially fluid—than previously conceived.
Want to read the rest of the article? You can find it here.