TUESDAY, 2 FEBRUARY 2021
Bees are well-known for their innate ability to turn nectar into a sweet, pancake-friendly substance, honey. However, there is much more to these little creatures. Honey bees expertly adapt to their environment by expressing different parts of their genome. Normally, genetic information is transmitted through DNA, from parents to offspring. However, research showed that bees can transmit information outside parenthood in an RNA-containing jelly given to larvae. Larvae that feed on jelly made by worker bees become workers and royal jelly causes larvae to develop into queens. RNA is bound to stabilising proteins which target it to specific cells.
These discoveries are relevant to the field of gene therapy and vaccines, where RNA delivery has been challenging to achieve as RNA, cannot cross cell membranes unless chaperoned by membrane proteins or lipid nanoparticles and have low stability in the gut. RNA therapeutics hold promise in treating hereditary defects, targeting aberrant gene expression in cancers or even acting as vaccines.
Understanding the composition of bees’ RNA-jelly could reveal biological processes to design improved RNA drug formulations. After honey, RNA-jelly could be the second sweetest gift that bees offer to humanity.