A last-minute pH shift turns goo sticky and keeps queen larvae from falling out of their cells
Honeybee royal jelly is food meant to be eaten on the ceiling. And it might also be glue that keeps a royal baby in an upside-down cradle.
These bees raise their queens in cells that can stay open at the bottom for days. A big blob of royal jelly, abundantly resupplied by worker bees, surrounds the larva at the ceiling. Before the food is deposited in the cell, it receives a last-minute jolt of acidity that triggers its proteins to thicken into goo, says Anja Buttstedt, a protein biochemist at Technische Universität Dresden in Germany. Basic larva-gripping tests suggest the jelly’s protein chemistry helps keep future queens from dropping out of their cells, Buttstedt and colleagues propose March 15 in Current Biology.
Suspecting the stickiness of royal jelly might serve some function, researchers tweaked its acidity. They then filled small cups with royal jelly with different