Molecular and Physiological Mechanisms Underlying Chemical Communication in the Honey Bee, Apis mellifera.

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Title: Molecular and Physiological Mechanisms Underlying Chemical Communication in the Honey Bee, Apis mellifera.
Author: Ayroles, Sarah DeLeigh
Advisors: Trudy F.C. Mackay, Committee Chair
Christina M. Grozinger, Committee Co-Chair
W. Owen McMillan, Committee Member
David R. Tarpy, Committee Member
Abstract: From prokaryotes to vertebrates, the use of chemical signals is widespread. However, the underlying mechanisms that have led to the diversification of chemical communication are poorly understood. Here, I focus on the pheromonal communication system of the honey bee, Apis mellifera, and describe some of the molecular and physiological mechanisms that underlie pheromone production and response in this species. The mandibular glands of queen honey bees produce a pheromone (QMP) which modulates many aspects of worker behavior and physiology, and is critical for colony social organization. Chapters 1 and 2 examine how the mating process in queens can produce changes in queen behavior, physiology, and pheromone production. Chapter 3 demonstrates that these changes in pheromone production appear to be linked to differences in ovary development, and that workers are most attracted to the pheromonal blend of queens with the most activated ovaries. Chapters 4 and 5 explore how variation in pheromone response can mediate queen-worker interactions. In chapter 4, I document extensive variation in worker attraction to QMP, show that this variation is linked to individual reproductive potential, and describe some of the molecular processes that are associated with this variation. Finally, in chapter 5, I test whether variation in a pheromone receptor for the main QMP component can explain the observed variation in worker attraction to the queen, and then take a molecular evolution approach to begin to elucidate the selection pressures acting on this receptor. In addition to the work presented in this dissertation, linkage mapping studies are currently underway to identify the genetic components underlying worker attraction to QMP as well as a set of behavioral and physiological manipulations to identify the epigenetic and environmental factors that can also contribute to this variation. The results of these studies demonstrate that the chemical communication system between honey bee queens and workers acts a dialog, rather than a simple, static signal-response system, and that variation in pheromone production and response both play a critical role in modulating queen-worker interactions within the hive.
Date: 2009-12-03
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Genetics

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