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Biochemistry: What makes a queen?

June 14, 2007

Photo by Purdue University

What makes a queen a queen, and a worker a worker? For honey bees (Apis mellifera) the answer is now clear: an enzyme called target of rapamycin (TOR) helps to create the sharp division between castes. TOR is involved in nutrient-sensing and growth control.

Gro Amdam of Arizona State University in Tempe and her colleagues found that expression of the gene that encodes for TOR was higher in honey-bee larvae destined to become queens than in those destined to be workers. Moreover, when TOR was blocked chemically or genetically, larvae developed traits of worker bees.

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