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Honeybees become workers or queens depending on diet

Plant molecules that regulate genes help determine whether or not bee larvae are destined to become royalty, research has shown.

Bee larvae born to be workers chiefly feed on a mixture of pollen and honey, known as ‘beebread’, rich in microRNAs.

Scientists believe the molecules, which silence certain genes, delay development of the larvae and keep their ovaries inactive.

Plant molecules that regulate genes help determine whether or not bee larvae are destined to become royalty, research has shown. This image shows bees inside their hive with the queen bee in the middle

HOW ROYAL JELLY MAKES A QUEEN BEE 

Bee larvae born to be workers chiefly feed on a mixture of pollen and honey, known as ‘beebread’, rich in microRNAs.

Scientists believe the molecules, which silence certain genes, delay development of the larvae and keep their ovaries inactive.

Queen larvae primarily feast on royal jelly, a nutrient secreted by the glands of nurse bees which contains much lower levels of microRNAs.

Researchers from Nanjing University in China found that honeybee larvae given plant microRNA supplements, as well as their regular food, developed more slowly than those raised without the supplements. 

They also had smaller bodies and ovaries.

Queen larvae primarily feast on royal jelly, a nutrient secreted by the glands of nurse bees which contains much lower levels of microRNAs. 

The microRNAs had a similar effect on fruit fly larvae, even though the flies are not social insects.

The evidence suggests that the complex bee caste system is directly linked to a gene regulation mechanism in plants.

Further work showed that one of the most common plant microRNAs in beebread targets the TOR gene which plays an important role in determining honeybee caste. 

Study leader Dr Xi Chien said: ‘Regulation of honeybee development by plant microRNAs shows an evolutionary adaptation for colony success through partnership between two species. 

‘Further studies in this new field may shed light on the impact of food processing on the evolution of eusociality.’

The full finding of the study were published in the journal PLOS Genetics. 

In recent weeks it was discovered that a controversial pesticide can potentially wipe out common bumblebee populations by preventing the formation of new colonies. 

The neonicotinoid chemical thiamethoxam dramatically reduces egg-laying by queen bumblebees, scientists say.

Bee larvae born to be workers chiefly feed on a mixture of pollen and honey, known as 'beebread', rich in microRNAs.  Queen larvae primarily feast on royal jelly, a nutrient secreted by the glands of nurse bees which contains much lower levels of microRNAs

Bee larvae born to be workers chiefly feed on a mixture of pollen and honey, known as ‘beebread’, rich in microRNAs.  Queen larvae primarily feast on royal jelly, a nutrient secreted by the glands of nurse bees which contains much lower levels of microRNAs

Predictions based on a mathematical model suggest this could result in the total collapse of local populations of the wild bees. 

Lead researcher Professor Nigel Raine, from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, said: ‘Bumblebee queens that were exposed to the neonicotinoid were 26 per cent less likely to lay eggs to start a colony.

‘A reduction this big in the ability of queens to start new colonies significantly increases the chances that wild populations could go extinct.’

Neonicotinoid pesticides are widely used in farms across the US and Europe, but in recent years both laboratory and field studies have linked them to the decline of bee populations.

In 2013 a two-year temporary ban on the use of neonicotinoids on flowering crops was imposed throughout the European Union due to claims the nicotine-related chemicals can harm valuable pollinators.

Currently the ban remains in place while it is under review.

 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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