A recent article, “Single gene separates queen from workers“, discusses a study published in Biology Letters carried out by scientists from Michigan State University and Wayne State University. They found a gene, which affects not only leg and wing development in bees but also the evolution of a bee’s ability to carry pollen. This gene, known as Ultrabithorax (UBX), gives worker bees the physical feature of their hind legs, which they need to carry pollen. 

Photo taken by: Christopher Down http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bee_gathering_pollen,_Montreux.jpg

Thanks to Ubx, workers develop a smooth spot on their hind legs that is home to their pollen baskets. Elsewhere on their legs, the gene causes the formation of 11 bristles, known as the “pollen comb” and it synthesizes a pollen press, a “protrusion” that packs and transports pollen back to the hive. Queens don’t have these features that the Ubx gene is responsible for. The scientists isolated Ubx and silenced it. The results were the disappearance of the pollen baskets, the growth of pollen combs, and reduction in the size of pollen presses. The scientists also concluded that pollen baskets play a smaller role in bees that are “less socially complex”, and the main scientist, Huang states that:  “We conclude that the evolution of pollen baskets is a major innovation among social insects and is tied directly to more-complex social behaviors.” 

So why is this information important? Well, given the recent downhill trend of bee populations, this research can contribute towards future attempts to make bees better pollinators. Do you think scientists should pursue this?