Toyama Professor Makes Key Discovery about Honeybees

Non-royalactin fed bees (left), royalactin fed bees (right)

Originally written for the Vol.5-No.4 edition (May 27, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

Dr. Masaki Kamakura of Toyama Prefectural University has discovered the function of the protein royalactin in the way it causes a honeybee larva to develop into a queen bee. The article “Royalactin induces queen differentiation in honeybees” is published in the April 24th issue of the science journal Nature.

Worker bees are all female, yet the queen bees are the only bees that lay eggs – about 2,000 a day. Furthermore, queen bees have the same genes as worker bees, but they are roughly 1.5 times bigger and live about 20 times as long. Scientists knew that only the bees that ingest royal jelly (secreted from worker bees) as larvae grow into queen bees, but the exact functions of the components of royal jelly had been a mystery until now.

Dr. Kamakura compared fresh royal jelly with royal jelly that had been heated at 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 days, and found a difference in the amount of proteins. In an experiment feeding the royal jelly to bee larvae, he found that only the protein royalactin activates the mechanisms that cause larvae to grow into queen bees.

In addition, there were similar results when royalactin was given to fruit flies: they became bigger, produced more eggs, and lived longer.

The hope is that this research regarding the development of queen bees will lead to improved beekeeping practices, and contribute to finding the cause of CCD (colony collapse disorder). Next, in cooperation with a beekeeper in Aichi Prefecture, they will experiment to see if the bees raised in the lab will be able to adapt to their role as queen bees in hives with worker bees.

Dr. Kamakura attended Kyoto University Graduate School of Agriculture, and arrived at Toyama Prefectural University as an assistant researcher in 2003.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now