In most species, however, the workers retain the capacity to reproduce, particularly in queenless colonies where typically many workers lay eggs. As yet, the molecular determinants that initiate this shift in worker fertility are still poorly documented. By using RNA interference we here demonstrate that the knockdown of epidermal growth factor receptor, a gene which was previously shown to be involved in queen-worker caste differentiation, also induces reproduction in worker honeybees (Apis mellifera). These data show that worker fertility and queen-worker caste determination partly rely on the same gene regulatory networks, thereby providing a major breakthrough in our understanding of the molecular determinants of the social insects' spectacular reproductive division of labor. © 2013 The Authors.
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