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Alternative splicing associated with phenotypic plasticity in the bumble bee Bombus terrestris

journal contribution
posted on 24.01.2018, 14:06 by J. Price, M. C. Harrison, R. L. Hammond, S. Adams, J. F. Gutierrez-Marcos, E. B. Mallon
Phenotypic plasticity is when one genome can produce more than one phenotype. The caste system found in many social insects is an important example of plasticity. Several studies have examined gene expression in social insect developmental and caste differences. Changes in gene expression, however, are not the only source of phenotypic plasticity. Here we investigate the role of alternative splicing in the buff tailed bumble bee Bombus terrestris. We found that 5458 genes in Bombus terrestris (40%) express more than one isoform. Larvae have the lowest level of splicing events, followed by adults and then pupae. We found that when an isoform is expressed in a given caste in the larval stage, it tends to be expressed in all castes at the larval stage. The same is true at the pupal stage. However, we see more complicated interactions between the adult castes with reproductive females showing different isoform expression compared to non-reproductive females and male adults showing the most distinct patterns. We found 455 isoform switching genes, that is genes, where one developmental stage, sex or caste uses a specific isoform and another type uses a different isoform. Among genes displaying isoform switching are some involved in the ecdysteriod pathway, an important system in insect behaviour.


JP was supported by a a PhD research grant from the BBSRC. MCH was supported by a PhD research grant from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). EBM was supported by research grant NE/N010019/1 from the Natural Environment Research Council, UK. The raw data used in this study was funded by a NERC Biomolecular Analysis Facility research grant (NBAF 829). Illumina library preparation and sequencing were carried out by Edinburgh Genomics, The University of Edinburgh. Edinburgh Genomics is partly supported through core grants from NERC (R8/H10/56), MRC (MR/K001744/1) and BBSRC (BB/J004243/1).



Molecular Ecology, 2018

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF LIFE SCIENCES/Biological Sciences/Genetics and Genome Biology


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Molecular Ecology







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