Research Topic

Advances in Genomics and Epigenomics of Social Insects

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Understanding the genetic architecture and molecular evolution of social behavior is a daunting task but the technological advances in genomics over the past decade have made it possible to ask questions in social insects that were once restricted to model organisms. These new possibilities have so far ...

Understanding the genetic architecture and molecular evolution of social behavior is a daunting task but the technological advances in genomics over the past decade have made it possible to ask questions in social insects that were once restricted to model organisms. These new possibilities have so far generated genomic, transcriptomic and epigenomic data for close to 50 social insect species from all major phylogenetic insect lineages that evolved sociality (bees, ants, wasps, termites).

The most studied social insect, the honey bee had its genome sequenced in 2006, followed by sequences from a number of ant species and non-social Hymenoptera. Termite genomes have been sequenced but not yet published. Results showed that the Hymenoptera, the haplodiploid order encompassing ants, wasps and bees harbor the most ancient holometabolous insect taxa. It also became clear that Hymenoptera are more similar to vertebrates than to Drosophila with respect to DNA methylation systems, circadian rythms and RNA interference mechanisms. Ants were found to have a surprisingly large set of unique genes. Many of these orphan genes show caste specific expression differences and are therefore involved in the regulation of social behavior. The availability of genome sequences fueled many valuable evolutionary and comparative follow up studies. Classical genetic studies such as QTL mapping of genes influencing behaviors can now be more easily tied to specific genes. Sophisticated microarray studies have revealed sets of genes whose expression are tied to specific behavioral states. Bi-sulphite sequencing, CHIPseq and other techniques have characterized the epigenomes of the social insects, revealing the importance of epigenetic marks on caste determination, behavioral plasticity, learning and alternative splicing, while providing important new insights into the mechanisms and functions of epigenetics in invertebrates. We feel that the systems biology approach has resulted in many intriguing findings and the time is right for a dialogue and community-based synthesis of advances in the field.

This topic will include manuscripts representing the latest findings, techniques, perspectives and outlooks for the future for the study of genomics of a phylogenetically broad range of eusocial insects. Manuscripts can focus on theories, methods, research articles or perspectives.

Questions to explore may include:

The evolution of insect societies.
The role of vitellogenin in honey bees.
The epigenetics of morphological caste determination.
Social insects and gerontology.
Coevolution of social insects and their symbionts.
Proteomic studies.
The use of genomic techniques in neuroethology of insects.
Effect of hybrid zones on caste determination in ants.
The role of epigenetics in queen development, learning, morphological caste determination and behavioral plasticity.
DNA methylation events and alternative splicing.
Linking specific genes with social behaviors.
Signatures of selection and evolution of social behavior.
The genomic consequences of social parasitism.
The role of novel genes in social evolution.
The role of transcription factors in social plasticity.


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