birds and bees of bees revealed

Using bees to explain the sexual behavior of humans has been found to be even more off the mark than you’d think. An international team of researchers report in the Aug. 22 issue of Cell that they have discovered the gene responsible for making a honeybee male or female, and, by so doing, have also solved the 150-year-old mystery of how male bees can be fatherless. The gene is called csd, or complementary sex determiner. Female bees have two sets of genes, including two copies of csd, one from each parent. Males, on the other hand, develop from unfertilized eggs laid by their mother, which have only one set of genes and so only one copy of csd. To become female, an offspring must have two different copies of csd, which work together to trigger female development. Gender being determined by one sex having half as many genes as the other isn’t exactly unusual; that’s the way it is with about one-fifth of animal species, including all ants, bees, and wasps, but not, to the dismay of would-be sex educators, humans.

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 9/09/2003.
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