Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

A single gene causes thelytokous parthenogenesis, the defining feature of the cape honeybee Apis mellifera capensis.

Abstract

In honeybees, the ability of workers to produce daughters asexually, i.e., thelytokous parthenogenesis, is restricted to a single subspecies inhabiting the Cape region of South Africa, Apis mellifera capensis. Thelytoky has unleashed new selective pressures and the evolution of traits such as social parasitism, invasiveness, and social cancer. Thelytoky arises from an abnormal meiosis that results in the fusion of two maternal pronuclei, restoring diploidy in newly laid eggs. The genetic basis underlying thelytoky is disputed. To resolve this controversy, we generated a backcross between thelytokous A. m. capensis and non-thelytokous A. m. scutellata from the neighboring population and looked for evidence of genetic markers that co-segregated with thelytokous reproduction in 49 backcross females. We found that markers associated with the gene GB45239 on chromosome 11, including non-synonymous variants, showed consistent co-segregation with thelytoky, whereas no other region did so. Alleles associated with thelytoky were present in all A. m. capensis genomes examined but were absent from all other honeybees worldwide including A. m. scutellata. GB45239 is derived in A. m. capensis and has a putative role in chromosome segregation. It is expressed in ovaries and is downregulated in thelytokous bees, likely because of polymorphisms in the promoter region. Our study reveals how mutations affecting the sequence and/or expression of a single gene can change the reproductive mode of a population.