Heli Havukainen of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences said research on honey bee health suggests vitellogenin guides bees to do different social tasks, such as caregiving or foraging, as well as supports the immune system.
The health of honey bees, which are major crop pollinators, has become a topic of considerable concern due to massive deaths of bee colonies in the United States and Europe.
Havukainen said vitellogenin can be described as a freight train consisting of a locomotive and a carriage. The protein carries fat as its cargo. The vitellogenin "train" travels in the bee's blood and delivers the fat cargo at different local stops or stations, the university said Tuesday in a release.
Scientists had previously thought vitellogenin was one entity, like a cargo ship, unable to separate from its cargo, Havukainen said.
Havukainen said the findings are the first step in determining how vitellogenin affects social behavior, immunity and stress resistance.