Ever since Cinderella’s sisters tried to marry the handsome prince, we have known that becoming a princess isn’t all fun. Queen bees could tell you a thing or two about it. A recent study has shown that bee larvae will only turn into queens if they renounce goodies like pollen and honey and stick to a strict Hollywood-type diet of only royal jelly.
And here is why:
Pollen and honey are derived from plant materials and contain a variety of flavonoids. The chemicals of the flavonoid family give plants their unique flavors, they increase the immune response of adult workers bees, and help them to detoxify phytochemicals they consume. But they also modify the gene activity of the future worker bees.
To determine the impact of flavonoids on the development of the bee larvae, a group of scientists fed one group a diet containing the common flavonoide, p-coumaric acid. The control group’s diet did not contain the flavonoide.
The results were as unexpected as they were startling: In bees reared on the p-coumaric acid diet the scientists observed a change in the gene activity. Some genes were upregulated while the activity of other genes were silenced or geared down. The result was a different development of the embryo. Bees reared with p-coumaric acid had ovaries significantly smaller than those reared without it.
Future worker bees are fed royal jelly for only three days. As of day four, their diet is switched to honey and bee bread. Only the future queen will have to make do with an unbalanced diet of royal jelly to protect her ovaries. It’s the price of being royal.
Scientists have been studying bee colonies since the 18th century – but it seems that there is still a lot to discover.
Royal jelly does not derive from plant material. It is a combination of proteins and sugar, produced by special glands in the heads of workers bees.
The original study, titled “A dietary phytochemical alters caste-associated gene expression in honey bees” by Wenfu Mao, Mary A. Schuler and May R. Berenbaum was published in online magazine Science Advances.
It was picked up by other online media, among them wired.com and greaterclevelandbeekeepers.com