Popadic Lab's publishes research on development of pollen baskets on honey bee legs

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Bee gathering pollen.

Victor Medved, a Ph.D. candidate under the mentorship of Dr. Aleksandar Popadic, recently publish exciting new findings of the evolution of leg modifications that led to the development of the pollen carrying structure in honey bees.

The team, including Medved, Popadic, and Dr. Zachary Huang from Michigan State University, demonstrated that specific expression of the homeobox gene Ubx is responsible for the development of a bristle-free region on the third leg pair of worker honeybees. This specialized structure allows the bee to pack and carry pollen from flowers back to the colony. In contrast, the queen bee, which does not forage pollen, does not express the gene in the specific leg area and does not form a pollen basket.

Silencing of the gene activity in worker bees results in the loss of the pollen basket. The additional finding that similar expression patterns are found in the region of the pollen basket in the related bumble bee, suggesting that the acquisition of the novel function for Ubx is an evolutionarily shared derived character. Based on the interest in these results, the journal Biology Letters chose a beautiful picture of foraging honey to lead as their cover illustration.

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