Worker Honeybee Sterility: A Proteomic Analysis of Suppressed Ovary Activation

Eusocial behavior is extensively studied in the honeybee, Apis mellifera, as it displays an extreme form of altruism. Honeybee workers are generally obligatory sterile in a bee colony headed by a queen, but the inhibition of ovary activation is lifted upon the absence of queen and larvae. Worker bees are then able to develop mature, viable eggs. The detailed repressive physiological mechanisms that are responsible for this remarkable phenomenon are as of yet largely unknown. Physiological studies today mainly focus on the transcriptome, while the proteome stays rather unexplored. Here, we present a quantitative 2-dimensional differential gel electrophoresis comparison between activated and inactivated worker ovaries and brains of reproductive and sterile worker bees, including a spot map of ovaries, containing 197 identified spots. Our findings suggest that suppression of ovary activation might involve a constant interplay between primordial oogenesis and subsequent degradation, which is probably mediated through steroid and neuropeptide hormone signaling. Additionally, the observation of higher viral protein loads in both the brains and ovaries of sterile workers is particularly noteworthy. This data set will be of great value for future research unraveling the physiological mechanisms underlying the altruistic sterility in honeybee workers.