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New Zealand researchers unlock key to honeybee fertility

Xinhua, August 4, 2016 Adjust font size:

New Zealand scientists said Thursday they had discovered the key to increasing the fertility of honeybees.

The University of Otago genetics researchers said they had discovered the molecular mechanism by which queen honeybees carefully controlled worker bees' fertility.

It had long been known that worker bees had a very limited ability to reproduce in a hive with a queen and brood present, but a third of them would activate their ovaries and lay eggs that hatched into fertile male drones without the queen and brood present, the researchers said.

It was queen pheromone that repressed worker bee fertility, but how it achieved this had been unclear.

Professor Peter Drearden said the researchers had identified an ancient cell-signalling pathway called Notch, which played a major role in regulating embryonic development in all animals, had been co-opted to constrain reproduction in worker bees.

They demonstrated that chemically inhibiting Notch signalling could overcome the effect of queen mandibular pheromone (QMP) and promote ovary activity in adult worker bees.

"Without active Notch signalling taking place, the worker bee eggs are now able to mature," Dearden said in a statement.

It was still unclear whether QMP worked directly on ovaries or was acting via signalling between the brain and antennae, he said.

"However it is acting, the outcome is that Notch signaling's fundamental role in the ovary has been modified and transformed in honeybees into social control of worker bees' reproduction," he said. Endit