"Honeybees have a sharp division of labor between queens, which reproduce, and workers, which care for the brood and forage for food, while among paper wasps social roles are much more fluid," said University of Illinois Professor Gene Robinson, who led the study.
The researchers said they compared the activation of genes in the brains of four groups of female paper wasps (Polistes metricus) that have different roles in the nest, with some more active in reproduction and others more active in provisioning the brood.
The purpose of the study was to determine if differences in brain gene activity among the wasps rely on the same networks of genes that in the honeybee (Apis mellifera) drive their division of labor.
The study identified more than 4,900 genes that were active in the wasp brain and confirmed the same genes and gene regulators that are important to the division of labor within a honeybee hive also are used by the wasps as they take on different roles in the nest.
The research that included Professor Matt Hudson; researcher Amy Toth, now an Iowa State University professor; and scientists from Grand Valley State University appears in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.