Methylation and worker reproduction in the bumble-bee (Bombus terrestris)
journal contributionposted on 19.03.2014, 16:34 by Harindra E. Amarasinghe, Crisenthiya I. Clayton, Eamonn B. Mallon
Insects are at the dawn of an epigenetics era. Numerous social insect species have been found to possess a functioning methylation system, previously not thought to exist in insects. Methylation, an epigenetic tag, may be vital for the sociality and division of labour for which social insects are renowned. In the bumble-bee Bombus terrestris, we found methylation differences between the genomes of queenless reproductive workers and queenless nonreproductive workers. In a follow up experiment, queenless workers whose genomes had experimentally altered methylation were more aggressive and more likely to develop ovaries compared with control queenless workers. This shows methylation is important in this highly plastic reproductive division of labour. Methylation is an epigenetic tag for genomic imprinting (GI). It is intriguing that the main theory to explain the evolution of GI predicts that GI should be important in this worker reproduction behaviour.