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

Hollywood has by no means made a motion picture about South Africa’s Cape honeybees, and frankly it is a travesty.

The pitch writes itself: Aspiring to grow to be a queen, a lowly Apis mellifera capensis worker leaves dwelling to invade a rival nest and properly fills it with her clones. All many thanks to the talents of a one, remarkable gene that makes it possible for her to ditch adult males.


Study by researchers from the College of Sydney indicates we can even slap ‘loosely centered on a accurate story’ beneath the title credits. Unlike the bulk of associated honey-loving subspecies, any old Cape honeybee sister can use her oversized ovaries to generate a fragrance that tells the hive she’s now in demand.

The only detail preserving 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 is game on, with any number of employees vying to assert their reproductive dominance around the colony all at when.

“As an alternative of staying a cooperative modern society, Cape honeybee colonies are riven with conflict mainly because any worker can be genetically reincarnated as the upcoming queen,” claims behavioural geneticist Benjamin Oldroyd.

“When a colony loses its queen the employees combat and compete to be the mother of the upcoming queen.”

On celebration, a worker with lofty plans may even set off for one more colony of bees entirely, trying her luck at becoming a ‘false’ queen by forcing hapless strangers to increase her youngsters, all of which take place to be just like her.


You can just really feel the drama currently.

Each 12 months, countless numbers of commercial beehives are ruined by such parasitic infestations of Cape honeybees, indicating apiarists are keen to perform out the strategies of these infiltrators in the hope they can guard their colonies.

The ability to reproduce by laying unfertilised eggs is a form of parthenogenesis referred to as thelytoky, and amid honeybees it is special to the Cape subspecies.

Working out exactly what tends to make it so particular has led to decades of investigation, hunting as a result of its genome for variations that may enable it ditch male bees entirely.

For this investigation workforce, results came when thelytokous A. m. capensis were crossed with non-thelytokous East African lowland honeybee (A. m. scutellata) – and genetic markers amid the generations were compared.

Ordinarily, this is the aspect exactly where we say how sophisticated genetics occurs to be. But in this circumstance, just just one one gene on chromosome eleven was all that was liable.

Labelled GB45239, it someway switches on the Cape honeybee’s ability to make eggs that can have on building into a new, genetically similar grownup, most probably by affecting how the chromosomes are segregated.


Far more investigation is essential to decipher the mechanisms behind these virgin births, and probably come across techniques to harness them for better pest administration.

Pragmatic benefits apart, the discovery contributes a little piece of the puzzle bordering the evolution of sexual intercourse as a indicates of procreation.

If nothing at all else, it is interesting that a number of mutations in the proper location can have an affect on how an whole population’s reproductive strategy performs.

“Sex is a strange way to reproduce and yet it is the most widespread type of replica for animals and vegetation on the world. It’s a big biological mystery why there is so significantly sexual intercourse heading on and it doesn’t make evolutionary sense,” claims Oldroyd.

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

Somebody get Netflix on the line.

This investigation was printed in Present Biology.