On Queen Bee Longevity

Those of you of a certain age will no doubt recall a good example of "anti-aging" magical thinking in the advertisement of royal jelly. Queen bees live far longer than workers, queen bees are associated with royal jelly, therefore...

Magical thinking is that state wherein you invent your own logic; the human gift for pattern recognition run amok, let loose by the human gift for laziness. Reality, unfortunately, cares little for what you think - this is why those who follow the scientific method prosper. Prosper so well, in fact, that a horde of lazy crickets can practice magical thinking and other frivolous pastimes, supported by the vast wealth produced by those who practice science.

So what's the reality of queen bee longevity, and what does it mean for medical science? As it turns out, the bees might one day be up there with flies, yeast and nematodes as a model to study certain important processes in aging.

Researchers at Illinois explore queen bee longevity:

Expression of Vg was high in the abdomen in the young queen and declined over time, but increased with age in the head and thorax. Old queens showed much higher Vg expression than young queens.

Worker bees had much lower levels of Vg expression than queens, and Vg in worker heads was also low compared with queens. Previous studies in workers had shown that Vg reduced oxidative stress in honey bees by scavenging free radicals that can lead to aging or illness. Not surprisingly, queens were more resistant to oxidative stress than workers.

Whether this is the actual mechanism by which queens achieve both fertility and long life remains to be seen, Robinson said. In any event, this study suggests that vitellogenin plays a vital role in queen bee longevity, he said, particularly since the honey bee lacks many antioxidants commonly found in other species.

Oxidative damage again as the determinant of longevity differences - perhaps naked mole-rats and their imposing resistance to oxidative stress would be a better companion species to the bee, insofar as longevity studies go.

I fully expect to see serious attempts to greatly alter the processes, amount and results of oxidative damage in humans make progress in the next two decades; the weight of evidence for potential benefits is far too great to ignore. The results of supplements, diet and calorie restriction are not "greatly alter" - here I mean repair biotechnologies such as protofection to remove a source of oxidative damage, or gene engineering to introduce effective, targeted antioxidants to where they will actually work. Some paths are more effective than others, but the attempts will be made, and more power to those folk who get them off the ground and flying.

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