Science Market Update

MSU Researchers Discover Pollination Depends on a Single Gene

Posted by Sam Asher on Thu, Jan 30, 2014

Around the world, the number of bees is abruptly decreasing. Known as colony collapse disorder, the phenomenon is affecting agriculture on the global scale. According to a report by the United Nations,  crops reliant on honeybee pollination sum up to a net worth of $200 billion, and the decline in population is increasing the cost of beekeeping by an average of 20%. Looking into the matter are bioresearchers from Michigan State University, who are busy deriving the genes responsible for pollination.


(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons and russavia)

In a honeybee colony, the worker bees do all the pollination while the queen remains in the hive. But the truth is that the queen couldn’t pollinate flowers even if she wanted to. She lacks the key features necessary for the job: pollen baskets, a leg feature that can hold pollen for transportation; a pollen press, which packs the pollen into the baskets; and a collection of bristles that make up the “pollen comb.” These three features are especially relevant to the crisis at hand because they are the most necessary for pollination and they are present in the bees that are disappearing.

MSU bioresearcherWhile studying the genes responsible for the expression of these features, MSU entomologist Zachary Huang (pictured left) and his team found that there were surprisingly few genes involved in the process: in fact, there is only one. The gene Ultrabithorax, or Ubx, controls all the features related to pollination. “This gene is critical in making the hind legs of workers distinct so they have the physical features necessary to carry pollen,” says Huang in an MSU article. He verified this in the lab by silencing the Ubx gene in a set of worker bees and noticing that the pollen baskets never developed in these bees. In addition, their pollen combs and pollen presses grew very slowly and didn’t reach their full potential.

Huang and his team are next considering whether the current decrease in pollination activity is due to a reduced expression of Ubx. Their next goal is to improve the pollination capacity of bees, now that they understand so well the underlying mechanisms.

Funding for Huang’s research comes from the NSF and from grants from the MSU AgBioResearch program. You can read a full report on funding information for MSU with our Funding Statistics report, below:MSU funding stats

Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. pays a visit to Michigan State University each year for the East Lansing BioResearch Product Faire™, a life science event held right on the university campus. Make sure to mark your calendar for July 23rd, 2014 when we next return to MSU. Biotechnology Calendar is a full service event company that has produced on-campus, life science research trade shows nationwide for the past 20 years. We plan and promote each event to bring the best products and services to the finest research campuses across the country. If you are a university researcher or a laboratory product vendor, consider attending one of our on-campus trade shows: here is our 2014 schedule.

Exhibit at East Lansing

Tags: Michigan State University, 2014, Midwest, Michigan, BioResearch Product Faire Event, East Lansing, MSU

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