Aging and longevity are complex life history traits that are influenced by both genes and environment and exhibit significant phenotypic plasticity in a broad range of organisms. A striking example of this plasticity is seen in social insects, such as ants and bees, where different castes can have very different life spans. In particular, the honeybee worker offers an intriguing example of environmental control on aging rate, because workers are conditionally sterile and display very different aging patterns depending on which temporal caste they belong to (hive bee, forager, or a long-lived caste capable of surviving for several months on honey alone). The ubiquitous yolk protein vitellogenin appears to play a key role in the regulatory circuitry that controls this variation. Here we outline the current understanding of the relation between vitellogenin and somatic maintenance in honeybee workers, and how this relation can be understood in a life history context.
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