Regulation of membrane phospholipids during the adult life of worker honey bee

Publication Name

Journal of Insect Physiology


Two female castes that are genetically identical are found in honey bees: workers and queens. Adult female honey bees differ in their morphology and behaviors, but the most intriguing difference between the castes is the difference in their longevity. Queens live for years while workers live generally for weeks. The mechanisms that mediate this extraordinary difference in lifespan remain mostly unknown. Both castes share similar developmental stages and are fed liquid food (i.e. a jelly) during development. However, after emergence, workers begin to feed on pollen while queens are fed the same larval food for their entire life. Pollen has a high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) while royal jelly has negligible amounts. The difference in food during adult life leads to drastic changes in membrane phospholipids of female honey bees, and those changes have been proposed as mechanisms that could explain the difference in lifespan. To provide further details on those mechanisms, we characterized the membrane phospholipids of adult workers at seven different ages covering all life-history stages. Our results suggest that the majority of changes in worker membranes occur in the first four days of adult life. Shortly after emergence, workers increase their level of total phospholipids by producing phospholipids that contained saturated (SFA) and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA). From the second day, workers start replacing fatty acid chains from those pre-synthesized molecules with PUFA acquired from pollen. After four days, worker membranes are set and appear to be maintained for the rest of adult life, suggesting that damaged PUFA are replaced effectively. Plasmalogen phospholipids increase continuously throughout worker adult life, suggesting that plasmalogen might help to reduce lipid peroxidation in worker membranes. We postulate that the diet-induced increase in PUFA in worker membranes makes them far more prone to lipid-based oxidative damage compared to queens.

Open Access Status

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Article Number


Funding Sponsor

Australian Research Council



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