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How Honeybees Defy Gravity with Royal Jelly to Raise Queens

The female sex in honeybees (Apis spp.) comprises a reproductive queen and a sterile worker caste. Nurse bees feed all larvae progressively with a caste-specific food jelly until the prepupal stage. Only those larvae that are exclusively fed a large amount of royal jelly (RJ) develop into queens. RJ is a composite secretion of two specialized head glands: the mandibular glands, which produce mainly fatty acids, and the hypopharyngeal glands, which contribute proteins, primarily belonging to the major royal jelly protein (MRJP) family. Past research on RJ has focused on its nutritional function and overlooked its central role with regard to the orientation of the larva in the royal brood cell. Whereas workers are reared in the regular horizontal cells of the comb, the queen cells are specifically built outside of the normal comb area to accommodate for the larger queen. These cells hang freely along the bottom of the comb and are vertically oriented, opening downward. Queen larvae are attached by their RJ diet to the cell ceiling. Thus, the physical properties of RJ are central to successful retention of larvae in the cell. Here, we show that the main protein of RJ (MRJP1) polymerizes in complex with another protein, apisimin, into long fibrous structures that build the basis for the high viscosity of RJ to hold queen larvae on the RJ surface.
Buttstedt A, Mureşan CI, Lilie H, Hause G, Ihling CH, Schulze S-H, Pietzsch M, Moritz RFA (2018)
Current Biology 28 (7), 1095-1100: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2018.02.022