Weird science of the day - Clone Bees

Here is something crazy from an evolutionary standpoint.

Many forms of social insects are able to reproduce asexually, creating female offspring from unfertilised eggs using two of four chromosomes replicated from their parents.

These chromosomes are reshuffled in the process, meaning that the next generation will be genetically distinct - but there is a limit to how many generations can be reproduced in this way.
But a new study has discovered that mutation in Cape honey bee workers is allowing them to pass on all of the genetic information from the four chromosomes from their parents, enabling the subspecies to clone itself for decades - although at the cost of genetic diversity.

Speaking to Live Science, the lead author of the study, Professor Benjamin Oldroyd, described the findings as “incredible” and also “incredibly dysfunctional”. “Somehow they’ve managed to do it. It’s insane, I’ve not heard of anything like this before, anywhere.”


Potentially self-fertilizing hermaphrodites are known in other groups certainly, but I am unaware of exactly this type.

1 Like

Hymenopterans (bees, wasps, ants) include some parthenogenetic asexual lineages, in which diploid females lay unfertilized eggs that develop into more diploid females. Many hymenopterans, including standard honey bees, have diploid females develop from fertilized eggs and haploid males develop from unfertilized eggs. I don’t think there are records of them creating haploid female offspring from unfertilized eggs. (Insects often use a XX=female, X=male genetic sex determination system, so haploid females don’t generally exist.) As an added complication, infection by the bacterium Wolbachia can affect the reproductive pattern.
What is novel, at least for honeybees here, is the ability of workers to produce diploid, female offspring. This sounds like it has essentially produced all-worker hives - no need for queens or drones. Although one would expect that to lead to potential inbreeding problems, some groups of animals have managed such a clonal existence for quite some time (many rotifers, for example).

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 6 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.