The South African Cape Honeybee Can Create Perfect Clones Of Itself

Typical hives of honeybees have a queen and a bunch of workers. Beehives work efficiently and smoothly to protect and feed the Queen and the offspring so the hive can survive. However, hives of African lowland honeybees are currently collapsing due to the threat from a rival bee species.

The threat comes from a rival sub-species called the South African Cape honeybee that can create perfect clones of themselves. One individual honeybee was found to have cloned itself millions of times over the last 30 years. The Cape honeybee can sneak into the hive of the lowland honeybee rivals and produce copy after copy of themselves with no need for a queen.

Contributing to the demise of the African lowland honeybee hive is that the South African Cape honeybee clones refuse to do any work. A new study has found the genetic foundations for the cloning adaptation of the South African Cape honeybee. According to the study, unlike most animals and even the Queen of the South African Cape honeybee hive, the female workers don't reshuffle the DNA of eggs they lay.

That means the workers consistently create perfect copies of themselves each time they reproduce. Researchers say that bypassing the DNA recycling process is unlike anything they have ever seen. One researcher says that while the process is incredible, it's also incredibly dysfunctional. Genetic reshuffling is normally required to hold chromosomes together during egg making process, but somehow the bees have managed to lay eggs without that process.

Honeybee workers and other social insects can reproduce via a form of asexual reproduction called thelytokous parthenogenesis. That process allows females to produce female offspring from unfertilized eggs. Each time an offspring is born, the single-parent worker bee will replicate the chromosomes she received from her parents. Genetic material from those four chromosomes typically reshuffles and is supposed to guarantee that with one parent, future offspring are genetically distinct. However, with only two chromosomes of the four picked and no new genetic material introduced by a sexual partner, an average loss of one-third of genetic diversity every time the shuffling is performed.

In the Cape honeybee, the workers have a genetic mutation enabling them to lay eggs parthenogenetically with all the genetic material from the four chromosomes meaning they don't throw out any of the chromosomes. Exactly how they're able to do that is unknown.