Researchers spot a gene causing virgin birth in honey bees

It is interesting to know that a worker bee, being sterile female, can lay eggs during its lifetime. In a study published in Current Biology, researchers from the University of Sydney have unveiled that a single gene is probably responsible for laying eggs parthenogenetically. The gene named GB45239 resides on chromosome 11 has the peculiar characteristic function.

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We know about the lifecycle of a honey bee as it involves eggs, larva, and pupa habitually. Queen bees can lay both fertilized and non-fertilized eggs. Non-fertilized eggs become male (drones) usually, and fertilized egg grows into female individuals. Another important one is the worker bee. These were been believed before sterile females before, but scientists have now proved it to be wrong. They have been working for the last 30 years to reveal about this gene on chromosome 11, and now, they finally solved a mystery.

The gene makes the worker bee of Apis mellifera capensis to lay eggs that only produce females but not males. The ability of a worker bee to reincarnate into a queen bee is surprising. Though it is helpful for the drone bees, it causes a drastic effect on the survival of other species of bees. There will be competition among the worker bee to be the mother of the next queen once the colony loses its queen.

The process in which the daughters are produced asexually in this manner is termed as “thelytokous parthenogenesis.” But to an extent, it has been restricted only to single species inhabiting the Cape region of South Africa. Some other trait also differentiates the Cape honey bee from other honey bee subspecies. One such trait is the ovaries of worker bees are larger and are capable of secreting queen pheromones, which make them show their reproductive dominance in their colony. In addition to this, there exists social parasitism in which a colony of Cape honey bee workers conquer other foreign colonies and allows the host colony workers to feed their larvae, thereby destroying their colony.

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The existence of the Cape bee with these characters has been occurring for more than a hundred years, yet we don’t know. Thanks to modern technology and genomics for providing information about the gene that hols for virgin birth in honey bees.

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