MicroRNAs associated with caste determination and differentiation in a primitively eusocial insect

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In eusocial Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps), queen and worker adult castes typically arise via environmental influences. A fundamental challenge is to understand how a single genome can thereby produce alternative phenotypes. A powerful approach is to compare the molecular basis of caste determination and differentiation along the evolutionary trajectory between primitively and advanced eusocial species, which have, respectively, relatively undifferentiated and strongly differentiated adult castes. In the advanced eusocial honeybee, Apis mellifera, studies suggest that microRNAs (miRNAs) play an important role in the molecular basis of caste determination and differentiation. To investigate how miRNAs affect caste in eusocial evolution, we used deep sequencing and Northern blots to isolate caste-associated miRNAs in the primitively eusocial bumblebee Bombus terrestris. We found that the miRNAs Bte-miR-6001-5p and -3p are more highly expressed in queen- than in worker-destined late-instar larvae. These are the first caste-associated miRNAs from outside advanced eusocial Hymenoptera, so providing evidence for caste-associated miRNAs occurring relatively early in eusocial evolution. Moreover, we found little evidence that miRNAs previously shown to be associated with caste in A. mellifera were differentially expressed across caste pathways in B. terrestris, suggesting that, in eusocial evolution, the caste-associated role of individual miRNAs is not conserved.
Original languageEnglish
Article number45674
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2017

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