Researchers from New Zealand’s University of Otago have discovered the molecular mechanism by which queen honey bees carefully control worker bees’ fertility.
It has long been known that worker bees have a very limited ability to reproduce in a hive with a queen and brood present, but in their absence, a third of them will activate their ovaries and lay eggs that hatch into fertile male drones.
It is queen pheromone that represses worker bee fertility, but how it achieves this has remained unclear.
Now, Otago genetics researchers have identified that an ancient cell-signalling pathway called Notch, which plays a major role in regulating embryonic development in all animals, has been co-opted to also constrain reproduction in worker bees.
In research newly published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications, Professor Peter Dearden and colleagues Drs Elizabeth Duncan and Otto Hyink demonstrated that chemically inhibiting Notch signalling can overcome the effect of queen mandibular pheromone (QMP) and promote ovary activity in adult worker bees.
Professor Dearden says they were surprised to find that Notch signalling acts on the earliest …