Institut für Evolution und Ökologie

Anja Buttstedt

Research Interests

Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) larvae are by no means fed with honey or pollen directly but with a jelly-like substance which provides all the nutrients that the larvae need to develop into adult honey bees. This food jelly is a product of two specialized head glands of brood-raising worker bees. The hypopharyngeal gland secretion contributes proteins to food jelly and the secretion of the mandibular glands contains amongst others fatty acids and sterols, mainly 24-methylenecholesterol (24MC). The main proteins of food jelly are members of the major royal jelly protein (mrjp) gene family, that is spread throughout but limited to the insect order Hymenoptera, as well as apisimin, an orphan gene in the genus Apis. MRJP1 and apisimin form together with the sterol 24MC a protein-sterol complex which forms fibrillar structures in the acidic environment of food jelly (pH 4.0) thereby increasing viscosity. This viscosity increase of the food jelly is crucially important for honey bee queen larvae which are raised in a special queen cell at the lower edge of the wax comb. The queen larva literally hangs in the cell that is open at the bottom and is glued to the cell ceiling by its food jelly. Thus, food jelly does not only nourish the queen larva but also prevents her from falling out of the cell and thus ensures the survival of the entire colony.
Whereas food jelly that is fed to queen larvae, royal jelly, is somewhat studied, our knowledge on food jelly fed to workers and drones has hardly increased since the 19th century. Thus, my future research will concentrate more on worker and drone jelly. I will elucidate which functions MRJPs, apisimin and 24MC have in these food jellies and to what extent the proteins play a role in sterol provisioning of all honey bee larvae.

Key Publications

A Buttstedt, CWW Pirk, AA Yusuf (2023) Mandibular glands secrete 24-methylenecholesterol into honey bee (Apis mellifera) food jelly. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 161:104011 (DOI: 10.1016/j.ibmb.2023.104011)

A Buttstedt (2022) 10-Hydroxy-Δ2-decenoic acid’s role in the fibril formation of the major royal jelly protein 1/apisimin/24-methylenecholesterol complex isolated from honey bee (Apis mellifera) royal jelly. European Journal of Entomology 119:448-453 (DOI: 10.14411/eje.2022.047)

T Kurth, S Kretschmar, A Buttstedt (2019) Royal jelly in focus. Insectes Sociaux 66:81-89 (DOI: 10.1007/s00040-018-0662-3)

A Buttstedt, CI Mureşan, H Lilie, G Hause, CH Ihling, S-H Schulze, M Pietzsch, RFA Moritz (2018): How honey bees defy gravity with royal jelly to raise queens. Current Biology 28(7):1095-1100 (DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.02.022)

A Buttstedt, CH Ihling, M Pietzsch, RFA Moritz (2016): Royalactin is not a royal making of a queen. Nature 537(7621):E10-E12 (DOI: 10.1038/nature19349)

All publications:


01/2023 – present
University of Tübingen

Institute of Evolution and Ecology, Comparative Zoology

11/23 – 10/26: DFG grant (534955761) with own position ‘Food jellies of honey bees - significance of major royal jelly proteins and sterols’

01/23 – 10/23: Guest Researcher


01/2021 – present
University of Pretoria

Department of Zoology and Entomology, Social Insects Research Group, South Africa

01/22 – present: Associated Researcher

01/21 – 12/21: Feodor Lynen Fellow – Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

11/2017 – 11/2020
Technische Universität Dresden

Open Topic Postdoc, B CUBE – Center for Molecular Bioengineering

07/2013 – 10/2017
Martin Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg

Postdoc, Institute of Zoology, Molecular Ecology

01/2012 – 05/2013
University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Postdoc, Department of Apiculture and Sericulture

Martin Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg

Dr. rer. nat – protein biochemistry

Martin Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg

Diploma - biology