Female developmental environment delays development of male honeybee (Apis mellifera)

BMC Genomics. 2021 Sep 27;22(1):699. doi: 10.1186/s12864-021-08014-1.


Background: Nutrition and cell size play an important role in the determination of caste differentiation in queen and worker of honeybees (Apis mellifera), whereas the haploid genome dominates the differentiation of drones. However, the effects of female developmental environment on the development of males remain unclear. In this study, young drone larvae were transferred into worker cells (WCs) or remained in drone cells (DCs) to rear drones. The drone larvae were also grafted into queen cells (QCs) for 48 h and then transplanted into drone cells until emerging. Morphological indexes and reproductive organs of these three types of newly emerged drones were measured. Newly emerged drones and third instar drone larvae from WCs, DCs and QCs were sequenced by RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq).

Results: The amount of food remaining in cells of the QC and WC groups was significantly different to that in the DC group at the early larval stage. Morphological results showed that newly emerged DC drones had bigger body sizes and more well-developed reproductive tissues than WC and QC drones, whereas the reproductive tissues of QC drones were larger than those of WC drones. Additionally, whole body gene expression results showed a clear difference among three groups. At larval stage there were 889, 1761 and 1927 significantly differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in WC/DC, QC/DC and WC/QC comparisons, respectively. The number of DEGs decreased in adult drones of these three comparisons [678 (WC/DC), 338 (QC/DC) and 518 (WC/QC)]. A high number of DEGs were involved in sex differentiation, growth, olfaction, vision, mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), Wnt signaling pathways, and other processes.

Conclusions: This study demonstrated that the developmental environment of honeybee females can delay male development, which may serve as a model for understanding the regulation of sex differentiation and male development in social insects by environmental factors.

Keywords: Cell sizes; Gene expression; Honeybee; Larval diets; Male development; Sexual differentiation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / genetics
  • Female
  • Haploidy
  • Larva / genetics
  • Male
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Sex Differentiation*
  • Smell*