Scientists Find Honeybees Can Trigger ‘Virgin Births’ With Just a Single Gene

Hollywood has by no means produced a movie about South Africa’s Cape honeybees, and frankly it’s a travesty.

The pitch writes itself: Aspiring to become a queen, a lowly Apis mellifera capensis employee leaves residence to invade a rival nest and correctly fills it with her clones. All many thanks to the abilities of a single, awesome gene that allows her to ditch men.


Investigate by researchers from the University of Sydney suggests we can even slap ‘loosely centered on a real story’ under the title credits. Compared with the majority of connected honey-loving subspecies, any aged Cape honeybee sister can use her outsized ovaries to create a fragrance that tells the hive she’s now in cost.

The only factor trying to keep the peace most of the time is the calming scent of pheromones from the rightful queen’s very own mandibular glands.

If her majesty dies, it’s video game on, with any quantity of staff vying to assert their reproductive dominance about the colony all at at the time.

“As a substitute of remaining a cooperative modern society, Cape honeybee colonies are riven with conflict since any employee can be genetically reincarnated as the up coming queen,” says behavioural geneticist Benjamin Oldroyd.

“When a colony loses its queen the staff battle and contend to be the mom of the up coming queen.”

On celebration, a employee with lofty targets could even set off for another colony of bees completely, attempting her luck at starting to be a ‘false’ queen by forcing hapless strangers to raise her youngsters, all of which occur to be just like her.


You can just really feel the drama now.

Each and every year, hundreds of commercial beehives are ruined by this kind of parasitic infestations of Cape honeybees, that means apiarists are keen to get the job done out the tricks of these infiltrators in the hope they can protect their colonies.

The capability to reproduce by laying unfertilised eggs is a sort of parthenogenesis referred to as thelytoky, and amongst honeybees it’s exclusive to the Cape subspecies.

Working out exactly what makes it so unique has led to a long time of investigate, hunting through its genome for variations that could aid it ditch male bees completely.

For this investigate workforce, achievements came when thelytokous A. m. capensis have been crossed with non-thelytokous East African lowland honeybee (A. m. scutellata) – and genetic markers amongst the generations have been as opposed.

Commonly, this is the section in which we say how complicated genetics transpires to be. But in this case, just a single single gene on chromosome 11 was all that was dependable.

Labelled GB45239, it somehow switches on the Cape honeybee’s capability to develop eggs that can carry on acquiring into a new, genetically similar grownup, most probable by impacting how the chromosomes are segregated.


A lot more investigate is expected to decipher the mechanisms at the rear of these virgin births, and possibly discover methods to harness them for superior pest management.

Pragmatic rewards apart, the discovery contributes a little piece of the puzzle surrounding the evolution of sex as a suggests of procreation.

If practically nothing else, it’s interesting that a couple mutations in the suitable put can impact how an entire population’s reproductive method performs.

“Sex is a unusual way to reproduce and still it is the most typical type of replica for animals and crops on the planet. It truly is a important biological thriller why there is so significantly sex heading on and it will not make evolutionary sense,” says Oldroyd.

“Asexuality is a significantly far more productive way to reproduce, and every now and then we see a species revert to it.”

Anyone get Netflix on the line.

This investigate was released in Existing Biology.