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Long live the queen bee

By Dave Collier - 29 Nov 2011 16:21:0 GMT
Long live the queen bee

Honey bee on a flower via Shutterstock

Colony collapse disorder or CCD has been under intense scrutiny over the last 5 years. CCD is the disappearance of bees from a hive leading to its eventual destruction, and has plagued and puzzled apiculturists immensely. Some studies point the finger at parasites, while others focus on malnutrition or disease. It has also been suggested that the electromagnetic radiation from mobile telecommunications might be involved. More recently, studies have started to look at the combined effects of these contributing factors and have proposed that CCD could be the result of numerous health problems having a devastating effect.

The Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB), in collaboration with the University of Bergen (UiB), released a report about an important protein that protects the health of individual bees. The protein, called vitellogenin, has a simple primary role but could play secondary roles in many other aspects of the bee's lives. Primarily, it is a food storage molecule that helps to transfer fat molecules from one part of the insect's body to another. However, this is not the only part it plays. Doctor Heli Havukainen, the author of the study, explained that it is involved in immune function, social behaviour, and stress resistance, adding, "...the more vitellogenin in bees, the longer they live."

Vitellogenin

Protein Vitellogenin; Credit: Heli Havukainen

The study looked at the shape and behaviour of the molecule and discovered it consisted of two parts. Havukainen likened it to a train with carriage, with the molecule able to separate the mobile "train" part from the fat "carriage" section. How the separation is triggered is still not understood but this is seen as a high priority for Havukainen. Having discovered the shape and behaviour, she would like to experiment with the separation process to see the effect on the health of the insect.

With CCD increasingly being blamed on a combination of health risks, a greater insight into a substance with such a profound influence on the longevity of bees would be a useful tool in the apiculturist's toolbox.

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Topics: Bees