Sex has just got a bit more complicated – for bees, at least. Researchers at the University of Cologne have discovered that the genes responsible for determining whether a bee is a queen, a female worker or a male drone are more complex than previously thought, publishing their findings in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.
Male drone honeybees hatch from eggs that have not been fertilised, while female workers come from fertilised ones. In addition, female workers inherit two different copies of a gene called csd, and these copies must be sufficiently different for the female bee to develop and thrive. Until now, there were thought to be about 20 different versions of csd, but now the researchers think there may be as many as 145 worldwide, which evolved in a relatively short period of time. The scientists think that the rapid production of this large number of variations helps to ensure a high level of genetic diversity in bee colonies, and could help to prevent inbreeding.