The buzz had always been that DNA methylation mechanisms appear absent in most insects, but are known to occur in social insects, like bees. And while genomic imprinting has long been known to favor chromosomes in plants and loci in mammals, bumble-bee research from the University of Leicester came across another honeypot of epigenetic theories.
Other epigenetic mechanisms contributing to bee’s social structure have already been described, but this one was uncovered when comparing the methylation differences between queenless worker bees who go on to take a reproductive role and those who don’t. Here’s what went down:
- Using methylation-sensitive amplified fragment length polymorphism (MS-AFLP) the team found over 100 DMRs between the castes of bees.
- The team queried whether methylation is fundamentally involved in the alteration of reproductive ability, by using low doses of Decitabine, which causes a passive loss of DNA methylation through the inhibition methyltransferases.
- Decitabine fed to adult and juvenile worker bees induced effects on ovary development and aggression, which are indicators of the workers taking on a reproductive role.
The authors have yet to show actual genomic imprinting occurring, but they do provide the first evidence towards a major driver of some cool traits in plants and mammals. By adding some supporting evolutionary theory to explain why it occurs in mammals and paralleling that to bees, the authors predict that genes with these similar characteristics should add insects to the genomic imprinting list that has previously been dominated by mammals and plants.
Find out what all the buzz is about in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, March 2014