Social evolution theory posits the existence of genes expressed in one individual that affect the traits and fitness of social partners. The archetypal example of reproductive altruism, honey bee reproductive caste, involves strict social regulation of larval caste fate by care-giving nurses. However, the contribution of nurse-expressed genes, which are prime socially-acting candidate genes, to the caste developmental program and to caste evolution remains mostly unknown. We experimentally induced new queen production by removing the current colony queen, and we used RNA sequencing to study the gene expression profiles of both developing larvae and their care-giving nurses before and after queen removal. By comparing the gene expression profiles between both queen-destined larvae and their nurses to worker-destined larvae and their nurses in queen-present and queen-absent conditions, we identified larval and nurse genes associated with larval caste development and with queen presence. Of 950 differentially-expressed genes associated with larval caste development, 82% were expressed in larvae and 18% were expressed in nurses. Behavioral and physiological evidence suggests that nurses may specialize in the short term feeding queen- versus worker-destined larvae. Estimated selection coefficients indicated that both nurse and larval genes associated with caste are rapidly evolving, especially those genes associated with worker development. Of the 1863 differentially-expressed genes associated with queen presence, 90% were expressed in nurses. Altogether, our results suggest that socially-acting genes play important roles in both the expression and evolution of socially-influenced traits like caste.
Vojvodic, Svjetlana; Johnson, Brian R.; Harpur, Brock; Kent, Clement; Zayed, Amro; Anderson, Kirk E.; and Linksvayer, Timothy A., "The genomic signature of social interactions regulating honey bee caste development" (2014). Faculty Scholarship for the College of Science & Mathematics. 28.
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