Many insects show polyphenisms, or alternative morphologies, which are based on differential gene expression rather than genetic polymorphism. Queens and workers are alternative forms of the adult female honey bee and represent one of the best known examples of insect polyphenism. Hormonal regulation of caste determination in honey bees has been studied in detail, but little is known about the proximate molecular mechanisms underlying this process, or any other such polyphenism. We report the success of a molecular- genetic approach for studying queen- and worker-specific gene expression in the development of the honey bee (Apis mellifera). Numerous genes appear to be differentially expressed between the two castes. Seven differentially expressed loci described here belong to at least five distinctly different evolutionary and functional groups. Two are particularly promising as potential regulators of caste differentiation. One is homologous to a widespread class of proteins that bind lipids and other hydrophobic ligands, including retinoic acid. The second locus shows sequence similarity to a DNA- binding domain in the Ets family of transcription factors. The remaining loci appear to be involved with downstream changes inherent to queen- or worker- specific developmental pathways. Caste determination in honey bees is typically thought of as primarily queen determination; our results make it clear that the process involves specific activation of genes in workers as well as in queens.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Number of pages||6|
|Journal||Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America|
|State||Published - May 11 1999|
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