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Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 65, Issue 4, pp 593–599 | Cite as

Caste-biased genes in a subterranean termite are taxonomically restricted: implications for novel gene recruitment during termite caste evolution

  • S. Behl
  • T. Wu
  • A. M. Chernyshova
  • G. J. Thompson
Research Article

Abstract

The caste system of social insects presents a classic polyphenism in which widely divergent reproductive and non-reproductive phenotypes are expressed from the same genome. In termites, the sterile soldier caste is particularly divergent in phenotype and presumably evolved under selection for defensiveness. In this study, we use genomic phylostratigraphy to show that genes with soldier- and other caste-biased expression from the Eastern subterranean termite Reticulitermes flavipes are more taxonomically restricted on the tree of life than genes with no caste-biased expression. This pattern suggests that caste-biased genes are relatively young and implies past selection for novel gene recruitment during termite caste evolution. Moreover, a soldier-biased set of 74 genes contains a higher proportion of orphan genes with no known homology than does a nymph-biased set or any null gene sets. This again suggests that the termite caste—and soldiers in particular—makes disproportionate use of evolutionarily novel genes that are potentially recruited from non-coding regions of the genome. Given that Reticulitermes and most termite soldiers are sterile, any past selection for genetic novelty of this caste must have been indirect and mediated through reproducing relatives.

Keywords

Sociogenomics Phylostrata Genetic novelty Orphan genes Reticulitermes 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank Justin Croft and all members of the Social Biology Group at Western University (Canada) for discussion and advice throughout this study. This work was funded by a Faculty of Science Undergraduate Pre-Thesis Award to SB and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Discovery Grant to GJT.

Supplementary material

40_2018_650_MOESM1_ESM.pptx (720 kb)
Supplementary On-line Material Figure S1. Cluster analysis of genes differentially expressed by caste (re-drawn from Wu et al. 2018). This heat map shows the n = 93 most differentially expressed genes from a total of 13,755 that have been provisionally assembled via RNA-Seq analysis for Reticulitermes flavipes. The top-most axis shows how castes (soldiers, nymphs, workers) and populations within castes (1, 2, 3) cluster based on pattern of gene expression. The left-most axis shows three co-expressed sets of genes that are I - uniquely up-regulated (red) in soldiers (n = 61), II- uniquely down-regulated (blue) in soldiers (n = 13) or III - uniquely up-regulated in nymphs (PPTX 720 KB)
40_2018_650_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (45 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 44 KB)

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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biology DepartmentWestern UniversityLondonCanada

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