Scientists are very certain that worker bees are sterile and unable to produce eggs, while the queen bee produces all the eggs to perpetuate the colony – but they had never known why only the queen is productive while many workers remain sterile, until now.
Biologist Bill Hamilton in the 1960s revealed via mathematical modeling that a particular gene suppresses the ability of worker bees to produce, and the gene tends to spread within a bee population. The only problem was that scientists could not really establish the mechanics behind this particular sterility gene.
But in a study published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution as well as Journal of Insect Physiology, researchers were able to proffer an answer to the riddle. They found a mutant anarchistic strain that indicated the workers were not sterile despite the presence of the queen – prompting further research into why this was so.
When the mutant anarchistic strain in the reproductive workers was compared to normal workers who were not productive, scientists found another gene called “Anarchy” which determined the sterility or fertility of worker bees. The Anarchy gene was named after the mutant gene from which it was identified.
The researchers further discovered that the gene Anarchy is more obvious in workers with no mature eggs in their ovary compared to those with matured eggs in their ovaries; and then the level of the gene influenced the maturity of the ovary and the eggs it produces in bee workers to a great extent.
Funny enough, the gene Anarchy becomes more prominent and pronounced when a bee is exposed to a worker.
Scientists found that a queen bee secretes a pheromone that suppresses the maturity of ovary in a worker bee, but as soon as the queen dies, the ovaries mature and workers lay eggs. Meaning that the queen uses her pheromone to influence the presence of the gene Anarchy when she is present with her workers, thereby influencing their abilities to produce until she dies.
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To break it down, workers around a queen appear to be on contraceptive pill – they produce eggs but these become aborted early because the pheromone released by the queen activates the gene Anarchy that deactivates the eggs – until the queen is gone and its influence removed will the workers be able to lay eggs normally.