The genetic signal that makes a honeybee male or female has been identified by researchers in Germany, the U.S. and Norway. The finding, published in the August 22 issue of the journal Cell, shows how male bees can have no father, a scientific puzzle going back over 150 years and the explanation for why bees, ants and wasps often form colonial societies. It could also make it easier to breed honeybees.
The researchers found that female bees have two different versions of a gene called csd, one from each parent, that form an active protein that triggers female development. Unfertilized eggs, which have only one copy of csd from the mother, default to being males.
In 1845, a Polish parish priest called Johann Dzierzon proposed that male bees have no fathers: They develop from unfertilized eggs, while females grow from fertilized eggs. Later work showed that Dzierzon was right. Male bees have half as many genes (haploid) as females, which get a set of genes from each parent (diploid). About one-fifth of animal species including all ants, bees and wasps use a similar haplodiploid system of sex determination, but the actual genes and mechanisms involved are not well understood.
Andy Fell | EurekAlert!
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