Sydney, Jan 29: Queen bees, the adult mated female that lives in the beehive and is usually the mother most of most, and ants emit a chemical that alters the DNA of their daughters and keeps them as sterile and industrious workers, a study says.
It suggests that a chemical modification to a baby bee or ant's DNA called DNA methylation helps determine whether the baby develops into a queen or a worker.
"When deprived of the pheromone that queens emit, worker bees and ants become more self-centred and lazy, and they begin to lay eggs," said lead researcher Luke Holman a biologist from the Australian National University.
"Amazingly, it looks like the queen pheromone works by chemically altering workers' genes," Holman added.
Queen bees and ants can have hundreds of thousands of offspring and live for many years, while workers are short-lived and mostly sterile, even though they have the same DNA as the queen.
The study was published in Biology Letters to investigate whether the queen's pheromone altered DNA methylation in workers.
The researchers found evidence that workers exposed to pheromones tag their DNA with methylation differently, which might suppress queenly characteristics in the workers.
Surprisingly, the queen pheromone of honeybees seemed to lower methylation, while the queen pheromone of ants seemed to increase it, which suggests things work differently in bees and ants.
"It brings us one step closer to understanding how these animals evolved their amazing cooperative behaviour, which in many ways is a step beyond human evolution," he said.