This morning I woke up and knew that in my role as human being, I would make coffee, take my dog out for a walk, and make myself some breakfast. I always assumed this knowledge came from habit and necessity, but a new study from Johns Hopkins implies that it might just be written in my DNA.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins report on what is considered to be the first evidence that honeybees’ behavioral patterns are linked to the reversible chemical “tagging” of their genes. The findings may be relevant to other animals, including humans, as well.

Working with bee expert Dr. Gro Amdam, the team identified the two different “professions” that female bees generally enter. They either become “nurses,” which tend to the queen and her larvae at the hive, or “foragers,” which leave the hive to gather pollen and other supplies. While all of these bees are “genetically identical sisters,” they still perform different tasks. The scientists wanted to know why.

They started the experiment by filling new hives with bees of the same age (to control for age influencing the chosen “career paths”) and watched as the bees divided themselves up into nurses and foragers. Studying their subjects’ DNA, the scientists discovered 155 regions with different tag patterns depending on if the bee was a forager or a nurse.

To test the permanency of these tags, they removed all the nurses from the hive to see if the foragers would change jobs. When the bees did change, the researchers studied the DNA differences again, this time between foragers and foragers-turned-nurses. One hundred and seven DNA regions were tagged differently between the two groups.

Amdam explained the findings. “It’s like one of those pictures that portray two different images depending on your angle of view,” she says. “The bee genome contains images of both nurses and foragers. The tags on the DNA give the brain its coordinates so that it knows what kind of behavior to project.”

The researchers hope their results will be used to better understand human behavioral issues such as learning, memory, mood disorders and stress responses — all of which involve interactions similar to those in the study.

So are the specifics of my morning routine a result of my DNA? It’s certainly possible.

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