According to the latest research, the huge difference in the size of gonads of a queen honey bee and its female workers as a result of the difference of their diet requires the turning on of a certain genetic program. Their results are more likely to permit a detailed analysis of an interplay of nutrition and genes that would drive a caste dimorphism in honey bees.
The Queen bees are different physically from their sterile female workers and have a greater body and larger ovaries that produce all of the offsprings in the hive. The future queens are fed “royal jelly” which is sugar rich as larvae, whereas the future workers get relatively sugar-poor “worker jelly.” However, the extent to which food alone decides the difference in the size of gonads between the queen and her workers was unclear.
In order to find the genetic influences on bee’s gonad size, the study authors firstly proved that lesser sugar had completely no effect on the male gonad size, proving that diet is not the only influence. In the next step, they utilized a gene editing tool to selectively turn off a gene for the general female development, also called the feminize gene present in early worker larvae.
The researchers found that there was no effect on the gonad size by a low-sugar diet with the feminizer gene turned off, and the gonads were also similar to the ones that were typically found in the male drones. The study authors concluded that the feminizer gene should be switched on not just for the production of ovaries but also for permitting the nutrient level to affect the gonad size.
“Because of the ability to rapidly screen mutations in honeybees allowed by gene editing, this study is likely to set the stage for much more extensive investigations of the role of individual genes and gene pathways in immune defense and behavioral and developmental control,” said Beye.