So you know that there are queen bees and worker bees, right? Well what determines which bees get to rule the roost and which don’t? Turns out that it’s just down to the food the bee larvae eat. No royal bee bloodline or anything, just what they are fed as kids.
Note- if you are already thinking “why should I care about these things that sting me?”, skip to the last two paragraphs of this post.
The lucky few queen bees in training will grow up on a diet of royal jelly. Living up to its name, royal jelly is full of protein and sugar which scientists thought for ages must be the explanation behind becoming a queen rather than a worker. And yes, it certainly helps, however they were still largely mistaken.
It turns out that it isn’t what is in the food that makes a queen, but what is NOT in the food.
Namely microRNAs. The worker bees are fed beebread as larvae, which has a higher concentration of these microRNAs that the royal jelly. Now it is well known (apparently) that microRNAs in plants can have a significant impact on plant development. Sooo the clever men in white coats thought that perhaps the microRNA in beebread was effecting the way that baby bees grow as well!
Skip forward a few months of lab-work and indeed, scientists realised that microRNAs were inhibiting ovary growth to the extent of infertility. And if you are infertile, you can’t be a queen bee.
But why should you care about this surprising source of the caste system in bee colonies? Because honeybee deaths are rising and so fewer plants are being pollinated. Therefore food stocks worldwide are slowly suffering. This research is the kind of thing that will aid in averting this potential bee-less global crisis.
There are already enough problems with food shortages around the world. We don’t need any more.