Ubx promotes corbicular development in Apis mellifera

Victor Medved, Zachary Y. Huang, Aleksandar Popadić

Abstract

The key morphological feature that distinguishes corbiculate bees from other members of the Apidae family is the presence of the corbicula (pollen basket) on the tibial segment of hind legs. Here, we show that in the honeybee (Apis mellifera), the depletion of the gene Ultrabithorax (Ubx) by RNAi transforms the corbicula from a smooth, bristle-free concave structure to one covered with bristles. This is accompanied by a reduction of the pollen press, which is located on the basitarsus and used for packing the pollen pellet as well as a loss of the orderly arrangement of the rows of bristles that form the pollen comb. All these changes make the overall identity of workers’ T3 legs assume that of the queen. Furthermore, in a corbiculate bee of a different genus, Bombus impatiens, Ubx expression is also localized in T3 tibia and basitarsus. These observations suggest that the evolution of the pollen gathering apparatus in corbiculate bees may have a shared origin and could be traced to the acquisition of novel functions by Ubx, which in Apis were instrumental for subsequent castes and behavioural differentiation.

  • Received November 29, 2013.
  • Accepted January 6, 2014.
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