Academic journal article Science and Children

Why Honeybee Larvae Become Queens or Workers

Academic journal article Science and Children

Why Honeybee Larvae Become Queens or Workers

Article excerpt

Scientists have unraveled how changes in nutrition in the early development of honeybees can result in vastly different adult characteristics.

Queen and worker honeybees are almost genetically identical but are fed a different diet as larvae. The researchers have found that specific protein patterns on their genome play an important role in determining which one they develop into. These proteins, known as histones, act as switches that control how the larvae develop and the diet determines which switches are activated. They found that the queen develops faster and the worker developmental pathway is actively switched on from a default queen developmental program.

This change is caused by epigenetics, a dynamic set of instructions that exist on top of the genetic information that encode and direct the program of events that leads to differential gene expression and worker or queen developmental outcome.

The study describes the first genomewide map of histone patterns in the honeybee and the first between any organism of the same sex that differs in reproductive division of labor. Bees are also very important pollinators, so it is crucial to understand their molecular biology, how they develop, and the mechanisms that regulate this.

Lead author Paul Hurd says: "The ability of an individual larva to become a worker or a queen is due to the way genes are switched on or off in response to the specific diet; this determines such differing outcomes from the same genome. …

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