Queen Bee Turns out to be a Commoner
A recent study into the genetics of bees has shed light on the hereditary of the illustrious Queen Bee. The study published in PLoS Biology has revealed that all bees are initially created equal – in a genetic sense – and that upbringing is the sole determinant of who is to become the ruler of the hive 1. Prospective queen bee larvae gain exposure to a nutritional substance, commonly referred to as “royal jelly”, for much longer than their worker bee counterparts. This results in behavioural, physiological and morphological changes between worker bees and queen bees, with the former living for only days while the latter may live for years. This is of significant interest as queen bee status was originally assumed to be an inherited privilege, just as conventional royalty is in humans. However, the results of this study show that nutritional differences have ultimately resulted in changes to the genetic make-up of these bees over time. Honeybees seem unique in that they can achieve this complex process of differential gene expression – producing different organisms from identical genomes – with simple dietary changes in the early stages of life. However, those wanting to sample the prospect-enhancing properties of royal jelly may need to reconsider as it is known to produce fatal allergic reactions in humans.