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Bees: How royal jelly prevents royal offspring from falling out of their cells

Defying gravity: A special mixture of proteins in the larval food of bees ensures that future queen larvae survive. Surprisingly this has less to do with nourishment than with gravity. The special properties of the proteins prevent the large and heavy larvae from falling out of their cells. Researchers at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) have discovered how this is accomplished at a molecular level. Their study will appear in the internationally renowned journal "Current Biology".

Because queen larvae are large, they cannot be raised in the normal worker bee cells of a honeycomb. "The bees build special queen cells for the royal offspring which are attached to the lower edge of a honeycomb. The larvae developing in these cells, are essentially hanging from the ceiling, and somehow have to avoid falling out of the cell," explains Dr. Anja Buttstedt, a biologist who carried out the study at MLU’s Institute of Biology under the supervision of Professor Robin Moritz. Currently she is conducting research at the Center for Molecular Bioengineering (B CUBE) at TU Dresden.

Publication: A. Buttstedt, C.I. Muresan, H. Lilie, G. Hause, C.H. Ihling, S.-H. Schulze, M. Pietzsch & R. Moritz. How honey bees defy gravity with royal jelly to raise queens. Current Biology DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.02.022

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