In honey bees, the queens are not of royal blood, but royal jelly: they become sexually mature only after being chosen by workers from the previous generation to perpetually receive royal jelly, a viscous substance rich in proteins, lipids, vitamins, and other nutrients. Approximately 90% of proteins in royal jelly are from the Major Royal Jelly Protein (MRJP) gene family. In the current issue of Genome Research, a team of scientists led by Dr. Ryszard Maleszka used the honey bee genome sequence to perform a comprehensive analysis of the evolution, genomic organization, and presumed function of the MRJPs.
Maleszka's team demonstrated that MRJP genes, found only in honey bees and closely related hymenopteran insects, were derived from an ancient family of genes in bacteria that produce Yellow proteins. But while protein products of the MRJP and Yellow genes shared extensive sequence similarities, they exhibited diverse expression patterns, indicating divergent physiological functions.
"Our work indicates that MRJPs perform context-dependent functions," explains Maleszka. "The proteins expressed in the brain or during development will have different phenotypic implications than those consumed as nutrients in royal jelly. In honey bees, nature and nurture converge to determine complex behavior."
Ryszard Maleszka, Ph.D.
The Australian National University
Drapeau, M.D., Albert, S., Kucharski, R., Prusko, C., and Maleszka, R. 2006. Evolution of the Yellow/Major Royal Jelly Protein family and the emergence of social behavior in honeybees. Genome
Contact: Maria Smit
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory