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How Do Genomes Create Novel Phenotypes? Insights From the Loss of the Worker Caste in Ant Social Parasites

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A central goal of biology is to uncover the genetic basis for the origin of new phenotypes. A particularly effective approach is to examine the genomic architecture of species that

A central goal of biology is to uncover the genetic basis for the origin of new phenotypes. A particularly effective approach is to examine the genomic architecture of species that have secondarily lost a phenotype with respect to their close relatives. In the eusocial Hymenoptera, queens and workers have divergent phenotypes that may be produced via either expression of alternative sets of caste-specific genes and pathways or differences in expression patterns of a shared set of multifunctional genes. To distinguish between these two hypotheses, we investigated how secondary loss of the worker phenotype in workerless ant social parasites impacted genome evolution across two independent origins of social parasitism in the ant genera Pogonomyrmex and Vollenhovia. We sequenced the genomes of three social parasites and their most-closely related eusocial host species and compared gene losses in social parasites with gene expression differences between host queens and workers. Virtually all annotated genes were expressed to some degree in both castes of the host, with most shifting in queen-worker bias across developmental stages. As a result, despite >1 My of divergence from the last common ancestor that had workers, the social parasites showed strikingly little evidence of gene loss, damaging mutations, or shifts in selection regime resulting from loss of the worker caste. This suggests that regulatory changes within a multifunctional genome, rather than sequence differences, have played a predominant role in the evolution of social parasitism, and perhaps also in the many gains and losses of phenotypes in the social insects.

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Date Created
  • 2015-07-29

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The physiology of division of labor in the ant, Pogonomyrmex californicus

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A notable feature of advanced eusocial insect groups is a division of labor within the sterile worker caste. However, the physiological aspects underlying the differentiation of behavioral phenotypes are poorly

A notable feature of advanced eusocial insect groups is a division of labor within the sterile worker caste. However, the physiological aspects underlying the differentiation of behavioral phenotypes are poorly understood in one of the most successful social taxa, the ants. By starting to understand the foundations on which social behaviors are built, it also becomes possible to better evaluate hypothetical explanations regarding the mechanisms behind the evolution of insect eusociality, such as the argument that the reproductive regulatory infrastructure of solitary ancestors was co-opted and modified to produce distinct castes. This dissertation provides new information regarding the internal factors that could underlie the division of labor observed in both founding queens and workers of Pogonomyrmex californicus ants, and shows that changes in task performance are correlated with differences in reproductive physiology in both castes. In queens and workers, foraging behavior is linked to elevated levels of the reproductively-associated juvenile hormone (JH), and, in workers, this behavioral change is accompanied by depressed levels of ecdysteroid hormones. In both castes, the transition to foraging is also associated with reduced ovarian activity. Further investigation shows that queens remain behaviorally plastic, even after worker emergence, but the association between JH and behavioral bias remains the same, suggesting that this hormone is an important component of behavioral development in these ants. In addition to these reproductive factors, treatment with an inhibitor of the nutrient-sensing pathway Target of Rapamycin (TOR) also causes queens to become biased towards foraging, suggesting an additional sensory component that could play an important role in division of labor. Overall, this work provides novel identification of the possible regulators behind ant division of labor, and suggests how reproductive physiology could play an important role in the evolution and regulation of non-reproductive social behaviors.

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Date Created
  • 2012

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Gustatory Perception and Fat Body Energy Metabolism Are Jointly Affected by Vitellogenin and Juvenile Hormone in Honey Bees

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Honey bees (Apis mellifera) provide a system for studying social and food-related behavior. A caste of workers performs age-related tasks: young bees (nurses) usually feed the brood and other adult

Honey bees (Apis mellifera) provide a system for studying social and food-related behavior. A caste of workers performs age-related tasks: young bees (nurses) usually feed the brood and other adult bees inside the nest, while older bees (foragers) forage outside for pollen, a protein/lipid source, or nectar, a carbohydrate source. The workers' transition from nursing to foraging and their foraging preferences correlate with differences in gustatory perception, metabolic gene expression, and endocrine physiology including the endocrine factors vitellogenin (Vg) and juvenile hormone (JH). However, the understanding of connections among social behavior, energy metabolism, and endocrine factors is incomplete. We used RNA interference (RNAi) to perturb the gene network of Vg and JH to learn more about these connections through effects on gustation, gene transcripts, and physiology. The RNAi perturbation was achieved by single and double knockdown of the genes ultraspiracle (usp) and vg, which encode a putative JH receptor and Vg, respectively. The double knockdown enhanced gustatory perception and elevated hemolymph glucose, trehalose, and JH. We also observed transcriptional responses in insulin like peptide 1 (ilp1), the adipokinetic hormone receptor (AKHR), and cGMP-dependent protein kinase (PKG, or “foraging gene” Amfor). Our study demonstrates that the Vg–JH regulatory module controls changes in carbohydrate metabolism, but not lipid metabolism, when worker bees shift from nursing to foraging. The module is also placed upstream of ilp1, AKHR, and PKG for the first time. As insulin, adipokinetic hormone (AKH), and PKG pathways influence metabolism and gustation in many animals, we propose that honey bees have conserved pathways in carbohydrate metabolism and conserved connections between energy metabolism and gustatory perception. Thus, perhaps the bee can make general contributions to the understanding of food-related behavior and metabolic disorders.

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Date Created
  • 2012-06-28

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Molecular Traces of Alternative Social Organization in a Termite Genome

Description

Although eusociality evolved independently within several orders of insects, research into the molecular underpinnings of the transition towards social complexity has been confined primarily to Hymenoptera (for example, ants and

Although eusociality evolved independently within several orders of insects, research into the molecular underpinnings of the transition towards social complexity has been confined primarily to Hymenoptera (for example, ants and bees). Here we sequence the genome and stage-specific transcriptomes of the dampwood termite Zootermopsis nevadensis (Blattodea) and compare them with similar data for eusocial Hymenoptera, to better identify commonalities and differences in achieving this significant transition. We show an expansion of genes related to male fertility, with upregulated gene expression in male reproductive individuals reflecting the profound differences in mating biology relative to the Hymenoptera. For several chemoreceptor families, we show divergent numbers of genes, which may correspond to the more claustral lifestyle of these termites. We also show similarities in the number and expression of genes related to caste determination mechanisms. Finally, patterns of DNA methylation and alternative splicing support a hypothesized epigenetic regulation of caste differentiation.

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Date Created
  • 2014-05-20