It was recently suggested (Amdam and Omholt, 2003) that the hive bee and diutinus worker states are governed by an age-neutral regulatory structure that incorporates the glycolipoprotein vitellogenin. Vitellogenin is a yolk precursor that is produced by oviparous animals (for a review see Omholt and Amdam, 2004). In the honeybee worker caste, though, vitellogenin has evolved a novel function—it is utilized in the production of brood food (Amdam et al., 2003a). The hypothesized regulatory link among vitellogenin, behavioral plasticity and longevity (Amdam and Omholt, 2003) has been explored in several studies with fundamental implications for our understanding of the evolvability of circuits that control the rate of aging (reviewed by Amdam, 2005). Specifically, vitellogenin genes are normally downstream of a female-specific regulatory cascade that has negative effects on lifespan (Murphy et al., 2003). In the honeybee, however, the effect is inverted so that vitellogenin gene expression extends life (Seehuus et al., 2005). This counterintuitive association may be caused by the novel, negative feedback regulation between vitellogenin and JH (Guidugli et al., 2005).
Studies of the genetic control machinery responsible for the link among vitellogenin, behavioral plasticity and longevity in the honeybee are currently utilizing selected strains bred by Page and Fondrk (1995) that differ in JH- and vitellogenin titers in concert with dissimilar trajectories of longevity (reviewed by Amdam et al., 2004b).
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