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Chapter 30 : “Quorum Sensing” in Honeybees: Pheromone Regulation of Division of Labor
This chapter focuses on the understanding of the regulation of division of labor in honeybee colonies from the perspective of quorum sensing. A flexible system of division of labor presumably is very important to colony fitness because a bee colony must develop and produce reproductive individuals despite constant changes in external and colony conditions. Three pheromones have been identified that regulate honeybee division of labor: a worker inhibitory pheromone, queen mandibular pheromone, and brood pheromone. These pheromones act directly or indirectly on physiological factors including juvenile hormone and molecular pathways associated with the foraging, malvolio, and vitellogenin genes. Ethyl oleate (EO), a substance produced by adult forager honeybees, was recently identified as a chemical inhibitory factor, delaying the age of onset of foraging in field experiments. Bees detect molecules (pheromones) that reflect the abundance of a particularly relevant category of conspecifics and respond accordingly. With the identification of these pheromones and the ability to detect their effects on brain gene expression, it should be possible to trace the flow of information from the environment ultimately to neurons in the brain to determine whether quorum sensing in bacteria and pheromone regulation of division of labor in the honey bee share any features at the molecular level.