Royal jelly makes bee queens, boosts nurture case

Mar 14, 2008

New Australian National University research may explain why eating royal jelly destines honeybee larvae to become queens instead of workers – and in the process adds new weight to the role of environmental factors in the nature/nurture divide.

Scientists from the Research School of Biological Sciences at ANU have discovered that a copious diet of royal jelly flicks a genetic switch in young bees that determines whether they’ll become a queen, or live a life of drudgery.

Their findings are published in the latest edition of the journal Science.

“Royal jelly seems to chemically modify the bee’s genome by a process called DNA methylation and disrupts the expression of genes that turn young bees into workers,” explains Dr Ryszard Maleszka.

“When we ‘silenced’ a gene controlling DNA methylation without recourse to royal jelly, we discovered that the larvae began to develop as queens with the associated fertility, rather than as infertile workers.”

Dr Maleszka and his colleagues believe this is the first time that DNA methylation has been functionally implicated in insects. The molecular process is common in vertebrates – including humans.

“If you have identical human twins, and one develops schizophrenia, then you need another mechanism to explain how this can occur when they have the same genetic blueprint,” Dr Maleszka says.

“DNA methylation links genomes to environmental factors like nutrition and modifies how genes express themselves. Discovering this in bees, which are a much simpler biological model than humans, means we have a better opportunity of understanding more about how this process occurs.”

The researchers will continue to study how DNA methylation affects bees, as they suspect that the process could also be responsible for how the insects’ brains develop, and may thus be connected to bee behaviour and even social organisation. The research suggests that environmental factors, such as how organisms are nurtured, can have a major influence on how they develop.

The research team includes Joanna Maleszka, Dr Robert Kucharski, Dr Sylvain Foret and Paul Helliwell. The current work grew out of the honeybee genome project, which mapped the entire genetic blueprint of bees. Royal jelly is a food substance secreted by adult bees that is fed in some measure to all young bees. The larvae that is chosen to be queen is fed an exclusive diet of royal jelly.

Source: Australian National University

Explore further: Sheep flock to Eiffel Tower as French farmers cry wolf

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A green data center with an autonomous power supply

54 minutes ago

A new data center in the United States is generating electricity for its servers entirely from renewable sources, converting biogas from a sewage treatment plant into electricity and water. Siemens implemented ...

Explainer: What is a small private online course?

1 hour ago

If you have studied an online course at a university over the past couple of decades, you've probably already experienced a SPOC, or Small Private Online Course. SPOC is a new term for an old concept, which appears to be frustrating members of the distance edu ...

Recommended for you

How can we avoid kelp beds turning into barren grounds?

3 hours ago

Urchins are marine invertebrates that mould the biological richness of marine grounds. However, an excessive proliferation of urchins may also have severe ecological consequences on marine grounds as they ...

Genomes of malaria-carrying mosquitoes sequenced

19 hours ago

Nora Besansky, O'Hara Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame and a member of the University's Eck Institute for Global Health, has led an international team of scientists in sequencing ...

Bitter food but good medicine from cucumber genetics

19 hours ago

High-tech genomics and traditional Chinese medicine come together as researchers identify the genes responsible for the intense bitter taste of wild cucumbers. Taming this bitterness made cucumber, pumpkin ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.