Workers drugged to be docile, to accept their fate, their role in life and their place in society - it sounds like life in Aldous Huxley's famous futuristic fantasy, Brave New World.
But it's what happens inside a honey bee colony, Otago University scientists have found.
Their research has discovered that queen honey bees control the aggressive activity of young worker bees by exuding an aromatic chemical, which acts on their nervous systems to inhibit anti-social behaviour.
The substance the queen produces, homovanillyl alcohol (HVA), acts on the young workers as they groom and feed her, and in effect brainwashes them to behave in a proper manner. They are prevented from learning to sting until they leave the hive - which makes the hive a much safer place.
Although much is known about the fixed caste systems of the social insects - bees, wasps, ants and termites - this new discovery shows that behaviour control is even greater than previously thought.
From her mandibles, a queen produces a pheromone containing a complex mixture of chemicals, says the Dunedin team, led by Dr Vanina Vergoz.
One of these is the HVA she uses to brainwash her subjects.
The chemical blocks "aversive learning" - the acquisition of negative memories which would normally trigger an aggressive "sting reflex" in the bees.
In tests, young bees were taught to associate a particular odour with an electric shock. Thereafter when they were exposed to the odour, they unsheathed their stings - but not if they had been exposed to the queen bee's pheromone.
Bees given a sniff of the pheromone remained docile, and kept their stings unextended.
Only young "nurse" worker bees in close proximity to the queen were affected. As they matured and ventured out of the hive to forage for nectar, they became free from the queen's control and learned to defend themselves against dangers.
The results of the team's research have been published internationally in the journal Science.
"This is ... significant, as it ensures that this important survival tool can benefit workers and contribute ultimately to the survival of the colony as a whole," they say in Science.
In a commentary published with the study, neurobiologist Dr Giovanni Galizia, from the University of Konstanz in Germany, makes a direct comparison between the brainwashed bees and Brave New World.
"In the 1932 novel ... Aldous Huxley created a society where foetuses develop in bottles and are treated with chemicals to modify their bodies and mentalities," he writes.
"Later, children are sleep-conditioned to their task in society. This procedure creates people who have clear roles, putting them in castes, ranging from alphas (the leaders) to epsilons (the drones).
"Among other things, lower castes are programmed not to be aggressive against higher caste members. A treatment with neurotoxic chemicals (including alcohol) during development leads to the appropriate brain changes."
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) came from the famous Huxley scientific dynasty. He was the grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin's most prominent defender, and the brother of biologist and naturalist Julian Huxley.
He was a philosophical thinker as much as novelist.