IRS is only one component of the process that decides a bee's ultimate fate. Wolschin says several other molecules are known to play a role, including DNA methyltransferase, juvenile hormone and a protein called TOR.
"Those are all very important and fundamental mechanisms," says Wolschin. "One single part cannot alone be responsible. It has to be the interplay between different mechanisms that finally results in the divergence of queens and workers."
The researchers are now looking at the interconnections between several of these factors. "We want to see if maybe there's a hierarchy involved. Several of the components are probably 'upstream' of other processes. So they serve as mass regulators and switches," says Wolschin.
Honeybees are vitally important to our economy through pollination of crops as well as production of honey, wax and royal jelly. Understanding bee biology is crucial to maintaining this industry in the face of problems like colony collapse disorder.
Wolschin adds that bees also provide an important model system that can help us understand our own biology. For example, scientists have successfully reversed many signs of aging in worker bees.
"That is pretty unique," says Wolschin. "You don't have other model organisms in aging research that can do that."
|Contact: Margaret Coulombe|
Arizona State University