Submitted to: Bioessays
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/1/2001
Publication Date: N/A
Interpretive Summary: During their immature stages, insect larvae can receive information about their surroundings, then use this information to change their growth patterns. A striking example of this is found in the honey bee, a species important for agriculture worldwide. Female honey bees become queens or workers depending upon how they are treated while they are developing. This ability to change development in response to cues is called a polyphenism, and is widespread in insects. We review the current evidence that genes play a role in polyphenisms, drawing from literature from grasshoppers, flies, and other important insect species. Understanding polyphenisms offers one way of predicting how both beneficial and pest insect species react to insecticides and nutritional changes during their development. These insights should help with the rearing of beneficial insects and the efficient control of pest species. This information will be useful to researchers and other people, especially beekeepers who are interested in pest control.
Technical Abstract: Polyphenisms are differences between individuals that arise not from differences at the genome level but through the effects of specific cues received during development. Here we discuss polyphenisms and new attempts to unravel their developmental bases in insects. We focus on social insects, and on the honey bee, Apis mellifera, in particular. Along with having great economic importance for their pollination services and hive products, honey bees are emerging as a model system for understanding the genetic and physiological steps involved with polyphenisms. Identification of these cues and their mechanisms provides a novel means of studying the interplay between genomes, gene expression and phenotypes in both beneficial and pest insect species.