Secret of royal jelly's super-sizing effect on queen bees appears to be special protein royalactin

April 27, 2011 by Bob Yirka, report

( -- In a paper published in Nature, Japanese researcher Masaki Kamakura describes a process he used to determine that the protein royalactin, is at least one of the components responsible for turning an ordinary female bee, into a queen. In a simple process of elimination experiment, Kamakura, was able to separate the different substances that comprise royal jelly, which then allowed him to feed those substances individually to a female bee to see which caused her to take on queen bee traits.

In the simple but brilliant experiment, the individual components that make up royal jelly were obtained by allowing the jelly to decompose under different temperatures. Since the components decomposed at differing rates, Kamakura was able to separate them at each stage, which then allowed him to whip up a diet comprised of just the individual substance (mixed with other ) that he fed to his test female bees, until he came upon the one that finally did the trick.

To prove his point, Kamakura also fed the royalactin mix to female fruit flies, a rather close cousin on the genetic tree, and discovered it caused queen bee like effects on them as well. They grew larger than normal, became better procreators and lived longer.

A thick white milky solution, royal jelly is excreted by female nurse bees, who deposit it for the queen to eat, and that’s all she eats, which is a good thing for her, since it causes her to grow larger, weigh more, and perhaps more importantly, to live far longer than anyone else in the hive. Because of its so-called magical properties, royal jelly has also been used by us humans for thousands of years for a variety of reasons, and while some claim it can help slow the effects of aging on skin, there is no evidence to suggest it can cause people to grow larger, live longer or produce more offspring.

It’s thought that royal jelly, and now just perhaps royalactin, are able to cause such changes in bees because it is a substance that is “recognized” by a called EGFR which is already existent in the chemistry and is known to be able to sense epidermal growth factor hormones. How it all works is still a mystery however, and because of that, there is still much research left to do before all of the secrets of royal jelly are finally revealed.

Explore further: Royal jelly makes bee queens, boosts nurture case

More information: Royalactin induces queen differentiation in honeybees, Nature (2011) doi:10.1038/nature10093

The honeybee (Apis mellifera) forms two female castes: the queen and the worker. This dimorphism depends not on genetic differences, but on ingestion of royal jelly, although the mechanism through which royal jelly regulates caste differentiation has long remained unknown. Here I show that a 57-kDa protein in royal jelly, previously designated as royalactin, induces the differentiation of honeybee larvae into queens. Royalactin increased body size and ovary development and shortened developmental time in honeybees. Surprisingly, it also showed similar effects in the fruitfly (Drosophila melanogaster). Mechanistic studies revealed that royalactin activated p70 S6 kinase, which was responsible for the increase of body size, increased the activity of mitogen-activated protein kinase, which was involved in the decreased developmental time, and increased the titre of juvenile hormone, an essential hormone for ovary development. Knockdown of epidermal growth factor receptor (Egfr) expression in the fat body of honeybees and fruitflies resulted in a defect of all phenotypes induced by royalactin, showing that Egfr mediates these actions. These findings indicate that a specific factor in royal jelly, royalactin, drives queen development through an Egfr-mediated signalling pathway.

Related Stories

Royal jelly makes bee queens, boosts nurture case

March 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 ...

Insulin signaling key to caste development in bees

July 14, 2010

What makes a bee grow up to be a queen? Scientists have long pondered this mystery. Now, researchers in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University have fit a new piece into the puzzle of bee development. Their ...

Honey bees: Genetic labeling decides about blue blood

November 3, 2010

Queen bees and worker bees share the same genome, but they are different in the chemical labeling of about 550 genes. This has been discovered by scientists of the German Cancer Research Center jointly with colleagues in ...

The buzz of the chase

July 30, 2008

Scientists from Queen Mary, University of London are helping to perfect a technique used to catch serial killers, by testing it on bumblebees.

Bees reveal nature-nuture secrets

November 2, 2010

The nature-nurture debate is a "giant step" closer to being resolved after scientists studying bees documented how environmental inputs can modify our genetic hardware. The researchers uncovered extensive molecular differences ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Apr 27, 2011
The method he used to separate components is amazingly clever. Great job.

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.