Honeybees and Queen in Honeycomb
All female honeybees are created equal, until they’re 72 hours old that is. While still in the larvae state, the female honeybee (Apis melifera) has an uncertain fate. Though it is highly likely that she will become a worker bee, there is a slight chance that she will be destined for royalty. There are two female castes amongst honeybees: the worker (a sterile female), and the queen (a fertile female). It is impossible to differentiate genetically between worker bees and queen bees. So what makes a queen, a queen? 

Royal jelly, a substance secreted from the heads of worker bees, is fed to all bee larvae up to 72 hours. At that time larvae meant to be workers are switched to a diet of honey and pollen whilst the larvae fated for queendom continue on a strict royal jelly diet. It has been known for some time that royal jelly is the cause of the transformation from a normal female honeybee in the larvae state into a queen bee with increased size, reduced developmental time and enhanced ovary development; however, the specific mechanism has remained unknown. 

In a paper published by Japanese researchers in the April edition of Nature, evidence was presented that suggests Royalactin, a 57-kDa protein found in royal jelly, to be the cause of the queen bee’s superior development. Royalactin not only enhanced growth in the female honeybee but in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) as well. Mechanistically the protein was found to promote queen development via an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mediated signaling pathway by activating and increasing the activity of mitogen-activated protein kinase, which was found responsible for promoting many queen like qualities. In the study researchers found the knocking down of EGFR expression in the bees and the fruit flies stifled the queen like superior development, showing that EGFR facilitates these processes. 

For years the royal jelly effect has fascinated humans. Though there hasn’t been much conclusive evidence regarding it's benefits for human application or consumption, royal jelly has found it’s place in several herbal remedies and beauty products. Perhaps royalactin will be the next big thing at health spas and beauty salons where human workers will be the ones providing the royal treatment.