Open Access Research article

Transcriptome differences in the hypopharyngeal gland between Western Honeybees (Apis mellifera) and Eastern Honeybees (Apis cerana)

Hao Liu, Zi-Long Wang, Liu-Qing Tian, Qiu-Hong Qin, Xiao-Bo Wu, Wei-Yu Yan and Zhi-Jiang Zeng*

Author Affiliations

Honeybee Research Institute, Jiangxi Agricultural University, Nanchang, Jiangxi 330045, China

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:744  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-744

Published: 30 August 2014



Apis mellifera and Apis cerana are two sibling species of Apidae. Apis cerana is adept at collecting sporadic nectar in mountain and forest region and exhibits stiffer hardiness and acarid resistance as a result of natural selection, whereas Apis mellifera has the advantage of producing royal jelly. To identify differentially expressed genes (DEGs) that affect the development of hypopharyngeal gland (HG) and/or the secretion of royal jelly between these two honeybee species, we performed a digital gene expression (DGE) analysis of the HGs of these two species at three developmental stages (newly emerged worker, nurse and forager).


Twelve DGE-tag libraries were constructed and sequenced using the total RNA extracted from the HGs of newly emerged workers, nurses, and foragers of Apis mellifera and Apis cerana. Finally, a total of 1482 genes in Apis mellifera and 1313 in Apis cerana were found to exhibit an expression difference among the three developmental stages. A total of 1417 DEGs were identified between these two species. Of these, 623, 1072, and 462 genes showed an expression difference at the newly emerged worker, nurse, and forager stages, respectively. The nurse stage exhibited the highest number of DEGs between these two species and most of these were found to be up-regulated in Apis mellifera. These results suggest that the higher yield of royal jelly in Apis mellifera may be due to the higher expression level of these DEGs.


In this study, we investigated the DEGs between the HGs of two sibling honeybee species (Apis mellifera and Apis cerana). Our results indicated that the gene expression difference was associated with the difference in the royal jelly yield between these two species. These results provide an important clue for clarifying the mechanisms underlying hypopharyngeal gland development and the production of royal jelly.

Apis mellifera; Apis cerana; Hypopharyngeal gland; Digital gene expression; Differentially expressed gene