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The making of a queen: Road to royalty begins early in paper wasps
Date:5/19/2010

and protein levels in young paper wasp larvae before they took on different roles.

Although all wasp larvae look and act alike, the researchers discovered several differences during development that predispose them to one caste or the other.

The larvae that become queens have high levels of a group of proteins that enable them to survive the winter and reproduce next year, whereas the ones that become workers are much shorter-lived and have low levels of these proteins, said Hunt. "There's less upward mobility in the ones that become the workers. They may look just like the future queens, but they are strongly biased toward the worker role."

Future queens also showed higher activity of several genes involved in caste determination in other, more recently evolved insects that have more visible distinctions between castes. "Paper wasps and honey bees are separated by 100 million years of evolution, but we see some of the same gene and protein patterns in paper wasps that lead to different types of adults in bees," he explained.

The results help shed light on how insect social behavior comes to be, Hunt explained. "It is sometimes argued that adult wasps actually choose to become workers in order to help their mother reproduce and raise their sisters hence the term 'altruistic,'" he said. "What we found is that really the choice is limited by how they develop as larvae."

The team's findings were published online in the May 17 issue of PLoS ONE.


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Contact: Robin Ann Smith
rsmith@nescent.org
919-668-4544
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)
Source:Eurekalert  

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