Honey bees' genetic code unlocked

honey bee Researchers hope the findings will shed light on how honey bees develop

Related Stories

Researchers say they have unlocked the genetic secrets of honey bees' high sensitivity to environmental change.

Scientists from the UK and Australia think their findings could help show links between nutrition, environment and the insects' development.

It could, they suggest, offer an insight into problems like Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious cause of mass bee deaths globally.

The findings appear in Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

"Honey bees live in complex societies comprising tens of thousands of individuals," explained study co-author Paul Hurd from Queen Mary, University of London.

"Most of these are female 'worker' honeybees that are unable to reproduce and instead devote their short lives to finding food in flowers... and other tasks such as nursing larvae inside the hive."

But the hive has a queen as well - the much longer-lived, reproductive head of the hive,

"When the queen bee lays her eggs, worker bees can determine whether the resulting larvae are to become an adult worker bee or an adult queen bee," Dr Hurd said.

"The type of food the larvae is fed dictates the developmental outcome - larvae destined to become workers are fed a pollen and nectar diet, and those destined to become queens are fed royal jelly.

"This difference in feeding is maintained over the entire lifetime of the worker or queen bee."

The change is suggested to be the result of a "histone code" - a process that sees genetic changes made to proteins called histones within cells' nuclei. Rather than "genetic" changes that are locked into DNA, these are known as "epigenetic" changes.

The report marks the first time such effects had been recorded in honey bees.

"The development of different bees from the same DNA in the larvae is one of the clearest examples of epigenetics in action - mechanisms that go beyond the basic DNA sequence," said co-author Mark Dickman from the University of Sheffield.

"From our knowledge of how the histone code works with in other organisms, we think the marks on the histone proteins might act as one of the switches that control how the larvae develop."

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Science & Environment stories

RSS

Features

  • OrangemanPunctured pride?

    How would N Ireland's Orangemen feel if Scotland left the union?


  • MarchionessThames tragedy

    Survivors and victims' families remember Marchioness disaster


  • Sheep on Achill IslandMass exodus

    Why hundreds of thousands of people have left Ireland


  • A teenaged mother in the Zaatari campUntold misery

    The plight of Syria's refugee child brides


  • Michael MosleyMeat feast?

    Which is the best eco option - eating beef, chicken or mussels?


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.