Caste-specific gene expression profile in the stingless bee Melipona quadrifasciata – are there common patterns in highly eusocial bees?

Caste polyphenism is a multifaceted phenomenon, most evident in the marked differences in reproductive capacity and longevity between queens and workers. The mechanisms underlying caste differentiation and division of labor are mainly addressed in the honey bee, and recently have been studied at the molecular level. Yet, generalizations drawn from studies on this model organism require validation by comparative studies. We choose Melipona quadrifasciata, a sister-group species to honey bees, to investigate differences in gene expression between newly emerged adult queens and workers. RNA extracts were subjected to a differential display protocol (DDRT-PCR). The putative differentially expressed genes, for which annotation was available, were validated by RT-PCR and hybridization. Differential expression was observed for myosin, projectin, kettin, cytochrome P450, Rab11 and Sas10. Except for kettin, all of these were overexpressed in the worker caste. Projectin and kettin could play roles in caste-specific flight muscle organization. The putative Rab11 and Sas10 homolog genes could be involved in fertility-related cell signaling and in longevity-related gene silencing, respectively. Cytochrome P450 overexpression in Melipona workers corroborates similar findings in the honey bee, thus indicating a common function in the social insect caste syndrome.

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