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How Do Queen Bees And Ants Control Princesses? Study Reveals Findings

First Posted: Jan 28, 2016 01:49 PM EST

A queen bee is a queen after all, and of course she will control everyone around her, even "princesses." Researchers found that queen bees and ants produce a chemical that changes the DNA of their daughters, who are kept as sterile, industrious workers, according to a study.

"When deprived of the pheromone that queens emit, worker bees and ants become more self-centered and lazy, and they begin to lay eggs. Amazingly, it looks like the queen pheromone works by chemically altering workers' genes," Dr. Luke Holman, lead author of the study, said in a news release.

Queen bees and ants produce thousands of offspring and they can live for ages. Workers are mostly sterile and have short lives, even though they share the same DNA as the queen. Researchers believe that there is a chemical modification to a baby bee's or ant's DNA, which is known as DNA methylation. This determines whether a baby becomes a queen or a worker.

The researchers found that workers exposed to pheromones have different their DNA methylation, which reduces queen-like features among workers. The team found that the queen pheromone of honeybees lowered methylation, however, pheromone of ants increased methylation.

"Bees and ants evolved their two-tier societies independently. It would be confusing but cool if they had evolved different means to the same end," Holman said. "It brings us one step closer to understanding how these animals evolved their amazing cooperative behavior, which in many ways is a step beyond human evolution."

The findings of this study were published in Biology Letters.

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