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The social life of honeybees coordinated by a single gene

to affect the bees behavior, with vitellogenin repressing juvenile hormone in younger bees to inhibit the shift from nest to field, and juvenile hormone repressing vitellogenin in bees that have switched to foraging to ensure that they stay true to their task and do not revert to nest jobs. In a previous study, the researchers also proposed that changes in vitellogenin gene expression early in life could foster the selective behavior that creates the division of labor between pollen and nectar specialists.

To test these proposed roles of vitellogenin in coordinating the social life of the honeybee, Nelson et al. inhibited the expression of the vitellogenin gene with RNA interference (RNAi). This gene-silencing tool introduces a double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) product whose sequence is complementary to a target gene, thereby setting off a series of events that ultimately knocks down the target gene. The researchers injected a vitellogenin dsRNA preparation into the abdomen of a subset of bees and compared their behavior and lifespan to a control group. (The control group also received a dsRNA treatment designed to mimic the stress of experimental handling without affecting gene expression.) The bees vitellogenin levels were monitored at 10 days, 15 days, and 20 days old to make sure the RNAi effects persisted.

Compared to controls, dsRNA-treated bees had consistently lower levels of vitellogenin protein. These vitellogenin knockdowns started foraging at a younger age than controlsconfirming that vitellogenin affects workers occupational fate by repressing the shift from domestic to foraging tasks. The foragers also showed a preference for nectar, in keeping with evidence that workers genetically predisposed toward nectar have lower vitellogenin levels before leaving the nest, while those predisposed toward pollen have higher levels. But more directly, the researchers argue, these results show that vitellogenin controls social foraging specialization.
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Contact: Natalie Bouaravong
press@plos.org
415-568-3445
Public Library of Science
5-Mar-2007


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