26 April 2011

The secret of royal jelly

Queen bees are created when designated larvae are fed royal jelly by worker bees. Until now, the exact active ingredient was not known. Masaki Kamakura of Biotechnology Research Center, Toyama Prefectural University has found that the active ingredient is royalactin. The study was a challenge as royal jelly itself degrades very quickly. Abstract from Nature
The honeybee (Apis mellifera) forms two female castes: the queen and the worker. This dimorphism depends not on genetic differences, but on ingestion of royal jelly, although the mechanism through which royal jelly regulates caste differentiation has long remained unknown. Here I show that a 57-kDa protein in royal jelly, previously designated as royalactin, induces the differentiation of honeybee larvae into queens. Royalactin increased body size and ovary development and shortened developmental time in honeybees. Surprisingly, it also showed similar effects in the fruitfly (Drosophila melanogaster). Mechanistic studies revealed that royalactin activated p70 S6 kinase, which was responsible for the increase of body size, increased the activity of mitogen-activated protein kinase, which was involved in the decreased developmental time, and increased the titre of juvenile hormone, an essential hormone for ovary development. Knockdown of epidermal growth factor receptor (Egfr) expression in the fat body of honeybees and fruitflies resulted in a defect of all phenotypes induced by royalactin, showing that Egfr mediates these actions. These findings indicate that a specific factor in royal jelly, royalactin, drives queen development through an Egfr-mediated signalling pathway.
See also Nature's The Great Beyond and New Scientist.

Royal Jelly is also used a health supplement, although it may induce allergies in some people.  Identification of the active ingredient could result in it being synthesized rather than being harvested from hives.

For those of us who have studied undergraduate biology, biochemistry or genetics, Drosophila melanogaster is still the ubiquitous object of study.

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