Study Examines How Mechanisms Evolve To Regulate Bee Development

November 07, 1996

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- With a little hormone jump start from researchers, male honey bees, known as drones, whose only job is having sex, get to work early. The hormonal mechanism, researchers say, has a genetic basis, because the drone sons of fast worker bees inherit accelerated development.

The findings shed evolutionary light on the mechanisms that regulate behavioral development in the drones' sisters, the worker bees, which pollinate almost $15 billion of agricultural crops annually, said Gene Robinson, a professor of entomology at the University of Illinois.

The research, which involved a series of experiments using honey bees (Apis mellifera), was published Oct. 15 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Co-authors were Robinson, an internationally recognized honey-bee expert, and Tugrul Giray, a doctoral student at the U. of I. in entomology.

Honey-bee scientists have a general understanding of how the level of juvenile hormone affects the well-known division of labor among worker honey bees, which plays a key role in the ecological success of the species.

This project, however, looked specifically at how juvenile hormone affects the behavior of the stockier, bigger-winged drones in an attempt to gain insight into the evolution of the mechanisms involved in the division of labor. While drones do not participate in the division of labor, they do undergo a unique pattern of behavioral development in which they grow up and mate.

The same endocrine and genetic mechanisms involved in behavioral development of worker bees -- who tend the hive and, when older, forage -- exist in the drones, researchers found. When the hormone level was elevated, drones began to seek virgin queens earlier than same-aged drones whose levels were not altered. The higher hormone levels, in effect, caused the drones to grow up faster. This is similar to what happens in workers; hormone treatment causes them to start foraging at a younger age.

To test for genetic effects, the researchers created a population without a queen, whose job is to mate and lay eggs. As a result, the workers laid eggs. But because workers don't mate, their eggs go unfertilized and their offspring are drones. Sons of fast workers again grew up fast, suggesting, Robinson said, that drones and workers have similar control mechanisms in their brains, even though their functions in bee society are totally different.

The work, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, could lead to new tools for brain research, Robinson said. "Drones offer an interesting genetic model because they are haploid [having half the number of chromosomes of workers]. With such simplicity, it may be possible to develop molecular genetic tools for analyzing underlying brain mechanisms involved in behavioral changes that could be applied to more complex genetic systems."

For the drones themselves, early maturity brings mixed returns: They can begin looking for a mate earlier, but drones that mate earlier in life die earlier.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related Honey Bees Articles from Brightsurf:

'Honey bee, it's me'
Honey bees rely on chemical cues related to their shared gut microbial communities, instead of genetic relatedness, to identify members of their colony.

Group genomics drive aggression in honey bees
Researchers often study the genomes of individual organisms to try to tease out the relationship between genes and behavior.

Colony-level genetics predict gentle behavior in Puerto Rican honey bees
Puerto Rico's population of African-European hybrid honey bees (AHB) are famously known for being much gentler than their continental counterparts.

York study: European ancestry plays role in 'killer' honey bees' aggressiveness
What causes African hybrid honey bees (AHB) or killer bees to be highly defensive and aggressive?

Microalgae food for honey bees
A microscopic algae ('microalgae') could provide a complete and sustainably sourced supplemental diet to boost the robustness of managed honey bees, according to research just published by Agricultural Research Service scientists in the journal Apidologie.

Study reveals important flowering plants for city-dwelling honey bees
Trees, shrubs and woody vines are among the top food sources for honey bees in urban environments, according to an international team of researchers.

Honey bees could help monitor fertility loss in insects due to climate change
New research from the University of British Columbia and North Carolina State University could help scientists track how climate change is impacting the birds and the bees... of honey bees.

Insecticides are becoming more toxic to honey bees
Researchers discover that neonicotinoid seed treatments are driving a dramatic increase in insecticide toxicity in U.S. agricultural landscapes, despite evidence that these treatments have little to no benefit in many crops.

Healing power of honey
Sandwiching nano-layers of manuka honey between layers of surgical mesh inhibits bacteria for up to three weeks as the honey is slowly released, new research shows.

Using probiotics to protect honey bees against fatal disease
A group of researchers at Western and Lawson combined their expertise in probiotics and bee biology to supplement honey bee food with probiotics, in the form a BioPatty, in their experimental apiaries.

Read More: Honey Bees News and Honey Bees Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to