I recently read an article about the division of labor among honeybees in a colony. Some bees are assigned roles as workers and drones, some are nurses, and only one is a queen.
"Queens can lay unfertilized and fertilized eggs, the former developing into males whereas the latter give rise to females ... Fertilized eggs developing into female offspring will develop into queens or workers depending on the nutrition of the larvae ... Queen-destined larvae receive more [nutritional] royal jelly [from their nurses]."
"Once the queen [outcome's] developmental pathway has been nutritionally triggered, there are ... subsequent differences in physiology and gene expression patterns ... A major difference between queen- and worker-destined larvae is the [higher] levels of ... juvenile hormone (JH) in queen-destined larvae".
In other words, if you receive better nutrition when you're a young larvae, you'll develop into a queen. We now have the outlines of Nature vs Nurture in honeybees:
Nurture ("environmental factors")
- Your environment (how well you're fed) determines whether you will become queen
Nature ("genes, hormones, detectors/triggers, gene expression pathways")
- You're hardwired with a nutrition detector that knows whether you were well fed
- The detector will trigger (or "switch on") the release of hormones and cause differential expression of thousands of genes. In worker bees some genes will remain dormant, and in queens a different set of genes will be activated and remain dormant. Those expressed genes impact how you will develop and what unique behavioral trails you'll bring to your role
The article concludes that "the regulation of division of labor is a complex interplay of a large suite of factors... Motivation, experience, physiological state, genotype, local needs, and interactions with other workers all affect the balance of which individuals perform which tasks."
But this is not a satisfying answer. Just because there's a dynamic interplay doesn't mean it's not Nature. After all, the "environment detector" (nutrition sensor) is itself hardwired.
The important question is... Why do nurses decide to feed some larvae more "royal jelly" in the first place? Is it a decision they make of their own free will? Unfortunately, the article admits that "the mechanisms by which royal larvae are identified by nurse workers are unknown"(!!!)
But I have a theory. I think we all (bees and humans) carry inside us a "random number generator" - a roulette wheel for decision-making - constructed by our genes. The nurse honeybee, when confronted with a new larvae, must decide what to do, so she consults her internal roulette wheel. Most of the time, spinning the wheel results in a "worker" decision, but rarely (the relative probabilities could be genetically hardwired or could themselves be "context dependent")... it comes up "queen".
If so, you have to wonder... is that kind of "nurture" really nurture at all? And it's not nature either. If indeed we consult our inner roulette wheel, with its pre-set outcome probabilities, the decision is not predetermined and it's not free will. It's pure chance.