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Insects that produce males from unfertilized eggs reveal a surprising cellular feat

Scientists have long known that the social insects in the order Hymenoptera--which includes ants, bees, and wasps--have an unusual mechanism for sex determination: Unfertilized eggs develop into males, while fertilized eggs become females. But the development of an unfertilized egg into an adult (called parthenogenesis) remains a mysterious process.

One mystery has been the origin of the centrosome, an essential cellular component that is ordinarily derived from the sperm after fertilization. A new study led by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, describes a remarkable process by which the egg cells of Hymenopteran insects make new centrosomes from scratch. The process involves enigmatic cellular structures called accessory nuclei, the function of which has not been explained since they were first discovered in the 1960s.

"Centrosomes arise from other centrosomes through duplication, but there is no centrosome in the egg that could give rise to new ones. We found that the accessory nuclei seed the formation of new centrosomes in unfertilized eggs," said Patrick Ferree, a graduate student in molecular, cell, and developmental biology at UCSC.

Ferree is first author of a paper describing the new findings in the April 18 issue of the journal Current Biology. Coauthor William Sullivan, professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at UCSC, said the findings have implications for understanding basic cell biology, the evolution of Hymenopteran insects, and centrosomal anomalies in cancer cells. The study also shows just how much remains to be discovered about the diversity of life at the cellular level, he said.

"You would think we'd have identified all the structures in the cell by now, but 90 percent of the material in cell biology textbooks comes from research on nine or ten organisms," Sullivan said. "Every time I look at a honeybee now, I think about these amazing structures they have, and it implies that
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Source:University of California - Santa Cruz


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