Worker honey bees undergo a socially regulated, highly stable lipid loss as part of their behavioral maturation. We used largescale transcriptomic and proteomic experiments, physiological experiments and RNA interference to explore the mechanistic basis for this lipid loss. Lipid loss was associated with thousands of gene expression changes in abdominal fat bodies. Many of these genes were also regulated in young bees by nutrition during an initial period of lipid gain. Surprisingly, in older bees, which is when maximum lipid loss occurs, diet played less of a role in regulating fat body gene expression for components of evolutionarily conserved nutrition-related endocrine systems involving insulin and juvenile hormone signaling. By contrast, fat body gene expression in older bees was regulated more strongly by evolutionarily novel regulatory factors, queen mandibular pheromone (a honey bee-specific social signal) and vitellogenin (a conserved yolk protein that has evolved novel, maturationrelated functions in the bee), independent of nutrition. These results demonstrate that conserved molecular pathways can be manipulated to achieve stable lipid loss through evolutionarily novel regulatory processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3808-3821
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Apis mellifera
  • Metabolism
  • Transcriptomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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