bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Royal jelly flicks a switch

The royal jelly secret that turns larvae into queens rather than workers may have been uncovered.

Scientists at the Research School of Biological Sciences at the Australian National University (ANU) have discovered that royal jelly flicks a genetic switch in larvae.
"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."
DNA methylation is well-known in animals, but they think this has been the first time it has been observed in insects.

The process also has implications in the age-old nature-nurture debate. Here, environment (food) can be seen to be affecting genetic development.

The work grew out of the honeybee genome project.

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