Complex regulatory role of DNA methylation in caste- and age-specificexpression of a termite

Harrison Mark C. et al.

The reproductive castes of eusocial insects are often characterised by extreme lifespans and reproductive output, indicating an absence of the fecundity/longevity trade-off. The role of DNA methylation in the regulation of caste- and age-specific gene expression in eusocial insects is controversial. While some studies find a clear link to caste formation in honeybees and ants, others find no correlation when replication is increased across independent colonies. Although recent studies have identified transcription patterns involved in the maintenance of high reproduction throughout the long lives of queens, the role of DNA methylation in the regulation of these genes is unknown. We carried out a comparative analysis of DNA methylation in the regulation of caste-specific transcription and its importance for the regulation of fertility and longevity in queens of the higher termite, Macrotermes natalensis. We found evidence for significant, well-regulated changes in DNA methylation in mature compared to young queens, especially in several genes related to ageing and fecundity in mature queens. We also found a strong link between methylation and caste-specific alternative splicing. This study reveals a complex regulatory role of fat body DNA methylation both in the division of labour in termites, and during the reproductive maturation of queens.

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March, 2022


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