My long-term goal is to understand the relation between aging and social evolution at the genomic, organismal, and biodemographic level. I use the comparative honey bee model that offers many experimental opportunities to study epigenetic influences on aging in a highly social context under natural conditions. These studies can yield new insights of general relevance into aging processes and generate novel hypotheses or concepts to stimulate human aging studies. Based on our previous demographic studies and findings that honey bees senescence is more influenced by social status and behavior than by chronological age, I propose to study the plastic aging patterns in honey bee workers further to address the questions how early life stressors, adult behavior, and social interventions determine individual life history trajectories. The predicted influences will be furter studied in surveys of the bees'transcriptome and methylome to elucidate genomic signatures of the exceptional aging plasticity of honey bees. The proposal has the following specific aims: 1) Identification of early developmental and behavioral influences on aging: The effect of parasite stress during development on mortality patterns will be studied with adult behavior as covariate. 2) Description of gene expression patterns and epigenetic mechanisms that underlie the social regulation of aging plasticity: Transcriptome and methylome profiles in specific tissues will be compared at three time points between stressed and unstressed individuals that experience normal aging or experimental aging reversal. All experiments will be conducted in large cohorts of individually identifiable workers housed in observation hives to enable demographic analyses. Motivated by previous studies, recent methodological advances and the growing need for a comprehensive understanding of aging, this proposal is timely and innovative. It addresses fundamental gerontological questions in a uniquely-suited model system. It will provide novel insights that illuminate the social dimension of aging in an experimental biological system to generate new hypotheses for future research. The funding would allow me to expand my dedication to mentoring student research and fostering the next generation of biomedical scientists.
The increasingly aging human population makes a comprehensive understanding of the biological patterns and processes of aging a necessity for policy making and medical practice alike. The honey bee is particularly well suited to experimentally study the effects of behavior and social factors on aging, which is the focus of this proposal. Yielding insights into general principles and generating hypotheses to stimulate studies on humans, the proposed research activities will significantly benefit human health.