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Genome Res. 2006 Nov;16(11):1352-65. Epub 2006 Oct 25.

Molecular and phylogenetic analyses reveal mammalian-like clockwork in the honey bee (Apis mellifera) and shed new light on the molecular evolution of the circadian clock.

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Department of Evolution, Systematics, and Ecology, The Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem 91904, Israel.


The circadian clock of the honey bee is implicated in ecologically relevant complex behaviors. These include time sensing, time-compensated sun-compass navigation, and social behaviors such as coordination of activity, dance language communication, and division of labor. The molecular underpinnings of the bee circadian clock are largely unknown. We show that clock gene structure and expression pattern in the honey bee are more similar to the mouse than to Drosophila. The honey bee genome does not encode an ortholog of Drosophila Timeless (Tim1), has only the mammalian type Cryptochrome (Cry-m), and has a single ortholog for each of the other canonical "clock genes." In foragers that typically have strong circadian rhythms, brain mRNA levels of amCry, but not amTim as in Drosophila, consistently oscillate with strong amplitude and a phase similar to amPeriod (amPer) under both light-dark and constant darkness illumination regimes. In contrast to Drosophila, the honey bee amCYC protein contains a transactivation domain and its brain transcript levels oscillate at virtually an anti-phase to amPer, as it does in the mouse. Phylogenetic analyses indicate that the basal insect lineage had both the mammalian and Drosophila types of Cry and Tim. Our results suggest that during evolution, Drosophila diverged from the ancestral insect clock and specialized in using a set of clock gene orthologs that was lost by both mammals and bees, which in turn converged and specialized in the other set. These findings illustrate a previously unappreciated diversity of insect clockwork and raise critical questions concerning the evolution and functional significance of species-specific variation in molecular clockwork.

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