The Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change

is a research museum of the Leibniz Association

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Quick facts

Project title: 
Humandkind's most important insect leg
ZFMK Project lead: 


Humandkind's most important insect leg <\br> the pollen basket (corbicula) of corbiculate bees (bumble bees, honey bees, stingless bees, orchid bees)

For millennia, bees played important economic and cultural roles for human societies as evidenced by Egyptian hieroglyphs or Mayan codices. Their importance as pollination service providers in ecosystems and crop production, and therefore food security is increasingly recognised. Arguably, most important are corbiculate bees, i.e. honey, bumble, orchid and stingless bees. These bees possess the evolutionary novelty of the pollen basket (corbicula) on their hind legs – a broadened, flattened/concave, polished/setae-less outer surface of the hind tibia fringed with long hairs. The corbicula is only present in females, i.e. is sexually plastic, and used to collect/transport large clumps of pollen. Despite its conspicuousness, the EvoDevo underpinnings of the corbicula are almost entirely unstudied. A study in honey bees showed the hox gene ubx facilitates suppressing corbicula development in never foraging queens by shifting the leg identity. Unveiling the developmental regulation will help to understand the evolutionary origin and adaptations of corbiculae across bees – the single most important morphostructure making them so successful and important for humankind’s food security.

In this project we will investigate the development of this iconic trait and the basis of its sexual plasticity. Thanks to funding by EASIGENOMICS (Horizon 2020), we have the opportunity to apply Spatial Transcriptomics (10X Visium) in combination with ATACseq and RNAseq as a functional genomics fundament to subsequent comparative genomics (evolution of the corbicula across bees).


Contact person

Head of Section
+49 228 9122-421
+49 228 9122-212
e.stolle [at]