A single locus determines thelytokous parthenogenesis of laying honeybee workers (Apis mellifera capensis)

Heredity (Edinb). 2005 May;94(5):533-7. doi: 10.1038/sj.hdy.6800654.


The evolution and maintenance of parthenogenetic species are a puzzling issue in evolutionary biology. Although the genetic mechanisms that act to restore diploidy are well studied, the underlying genes that cause the switch from sexual reproduction to parthenogenesis have not been analysed. There are several species that are polymorphic for sexual and parthenogenetic reproduction, which may have a genetic basis. We use the South African honeybee subspecies Apis mellifera capensis to analyse the genetic control of thelytoky (asexual production of female workers). Due to the caste system of honeybees, it is possible to establish classical backcrosses using sexually reproducing queens and drones of both arrhenotokous and thelytokous subspecies, and to score the frequency of parthenogenesis in the resulting workers. We found Mendelian segregation for thelytoky of egg-laying workers, which appears to be controlled by a single major gene (th). The segregation pattern indicates a recessive allele causing thelytoky. We found no evidence for maternal transmission of bacterial endosymbionts controlling parthenogenesis. Thelytokous parthenogenesis of honeybee workers appears to be a classical qualitative trait, because we did not observe mixed parthenogenesis (amphitoky), which might be expected in the case of multi-locus inheritance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / genetics*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Eggs
  • Female
  • Genetic Linkage*
  • Genotype
  • Parthenogenesis / genetics*
  • Quantitative Trait, Heritable