School seminar series: Seriously weird stuff in South African honeybees

30 August 2013

Social cancers, paternal imprinting, genome elimination

On the southern tip of South Africa there dwells a little black honey bee called Apis mellifera capensis. It's not nearly so fierce as its yellow cousin to the north, the infamous 'killer bee' (Apis mellifera scutellata), but it is none the less extraordinary in its own way. Unlike all other honey bees, when an unmated worker lays an unfertilised egg it develops not as a male, but as a female, a clone of its mother. This provides workers with extraordinary opportunities for reproductive cheating, which they do with alacrity. It also provides researchers with the opportunity to study some remarkable evolutionary phenomenon. I will discuss three of them. 1) Reciprocal crosses between A. m. scutellata and A. m. capensis suggest that Capensis males epigenetically modify their sperm to increase the size and reproductive capacity of their worker offspring. 2) A clonal lineage of Capensis workers that has infested the beekeeping industry for over 20 years has retained heterozygosity without sex. This lineage provides the opportunity to answer a controversial question in evolutionary biology: why is fitness so often correlated with heterozygosity? 3) Is the foraging behaviour of modern social insects controlled by the same gene network that once regulated the reproductive cycle of solitary insects?

Time: 1-2pm

Location: DT Anderson Lecture Theatre, A08