CRG: Queen or worker? Flexibility between roles relies on just a few genes

CRG: Queen or worker? Flexibility between roles relies on just a few genes

News from CRG

Two insect species from Latin America, the dinosaur ant and the red paper wasp, have been used to uncover the molecular mechanisms underpinning queen and worker roles in social insects. The research by an international team of scientists brings us closer to understanding how genomes are used to generate castes in social evolution.

Researchers from the University of Bristol, the Babraham Institute (Cambridge, UK) and the Centre for Genomic Regulation (Barcelona, Spain) analysed individual wasp and ant brains from queens and workers of both species to see whether caste differences could be explained by variations in how the genome is ‘read’ and regulated.

As published in the latest issue of PNAS, the two species revealed much more than honeybees about how queen and worker castes evolve in insect societies. Dr Seirian Sumner, a senior author on the paper, and a senior lecturer at the University of Bristol, explains: “Unlike honeybees, who as larvae are fated irreversibly to be a queen or worker, paper wasps and dinosaur ants are able to switch role from worker to queen at any point in their life. This flexibility is thought to represent the first stages of caste evolution, when the simplest societies form.”

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CRG news

Patalano S, Molecular signatures of plastic phenotypes in two eusocial insect species with simple societies. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Oct 19;