OOS 12-8 - Evolutionary insights from behavioral genomics of natural populations of bees and wasps

Tuesday, August 9, 2011: 10:10 AM
15, Austin Convention Center
Amy Toth, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University

Historically, behavioral genomics has been focused on model organisms in a lab setting.  Thus, it has been difficult to relate discoveries about gene-behavior relationships to evolution and the ecological context of the behavior of interest.  Breakthroughs in sequencing technology have begun to break down many of the barriers to conducting in-depth genomic studies on natural populations of species of ecological or evolutionary importance.  We have used next-generation sequencing as a springboard to develop genomic resources and tools for paper wasps in the genus Polistes, an important genus for the study of the evolution of social behavior.  Here, we will describe a series of experiments with paper wasps that aim to identify sets of genes associated with social behavior using a variety of approaches, including candidate gene studies, transcriptomics, microarrays, RNA-sequencing, and RNA-interference. 


Our studies have identified sets of genes associated with sociality, maternal behavior, and dominance in wasps.  These findings have led to three insights: 1) Nutritional physiology and nutrient signaling genes are likely to be important in regulating division of labor for foraging in multiple independent origins of insect sociality.  2) Genes associated with solitary maternal behavior are also associated with “altruistic” worker behavior, supporting an evolutionary link between maternal behavior and eusociality.  3) Meta-analyses of transcriptomic data have identified functional categories of genes associated with sociality across multiple lineages of social animals, suggesting some of the same molecular mechanisms may be recruited repeatedly during evolution to regulate convergent behavioral phenotypes.

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