An international team of researchers has discovered the gene that allows male bees to have no father, a finding that may help experts preserve endangered bee populations so they can keep the busy insects pollinating crops and wild flora.
“We found the section of honeybee genome responsible for the differentiation between female and male,” Kim Fondrk of the University of California at Davis, who worked on the study, said in a telephone interview.
The discovery helps explain a lot of things that are strange about bees and may help experts preserve endangered bee populations so they can keep the busy insects pollinating crops and wild flora.
Writing in the latest issue of the journal Cell, Miss Fondrk and colleagues in Germany and Norway said the responsible gene is called complementary sex determiner, or csd.
Csd has 19 alternative versions, called alleles. Female bees have two copies of csd which are always different alleles. Males have only one copy.
About one-fifth of animal species including all ants, bees and wasps use a similar system of sex determination, but the actual genes and mechanisms involved are not well understood.
It helps explain their complex social systems, said Miss Fondrk.
“There are three castes — the queen, who is the egg-layer and mother of all the bees in the hive,” Miss Fondrk said. In the wild, she mates only once with a male to get the two sets of genes that go to all of her female offspring.
“Then the workers are females and they do all the work. They are the ones that sting. They are the ones that bring the honey in, too.”
Then there are the males — the drones. “Drones just have a sexual function,” said Miss Fondrk. And they do not inherit a second set of genes from a father bee. They are half-clones of the queen.