Differential gene expression and protein abundance evince ontogenetic bias toward castes in a primitively eusocial wasp

James H. Hunt, Florian Wolschin, Michael T. Henshaw, Thomas C. Newman, Amy L. Toth, Gro Amdam

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65 Scopus citations


Polistes paper wasps are models for understanding conditions that may have characterized the origin of worker and queen castes and, therefore, the origin of paper wasp sociality. Polistes is "primitively eusocial" by virtue of having contextdependent caste determination and no morphological differences between castes. Even so, Polistes colonies have a temporal pattern in which most female larvae reared by the foundress become workers, and most reared by workers become future-reproductive gynes. This pattern is hypothesized to reflect development onto two pathways, which may utilize mechanisms that regulate diapause in other insects. Using expressed sequence tags (ESTs) for Polistes metricus we selected candidate genes differentially expressed in other insects in three categories: 1) diapause vs. non-diapause phenotypes and/or worker vs. queen differentiation, 2) behavioral subcastes of worker honey bees, and 3) no a priori expectation of a role in worker/gyne development. We also used a non-targeted proteomics screen to test for peptide/protein abundance differences that could reflect larval developmental divergence. We found that foundress-reared larvae (putative worker-destined) and worker-reared larvae (putative gyne-destined) differed in quantitative expression of sixteen genes, twelve of which were associated with caste and/or diapause in other insects, and they also differed in abundance of nine peptides/proteins. Some differentially-expressed genes are involved in diapause regulation in other insects, and other differentially-expressed genes and proteins are involved in the insulin signaling pathway, nutrient metabolism, and caste determination in highly social bees. Differential expression of a gene and a peptide encoding hexameric storage proteins is especially noteworthy. Although not conclusive, our results support hypotheses of 1) larval developmental pathway divergence that can lead to caste bias in adults and 2) nutritional differences as the foundation of the pathway divergence. Finally, the differential expression in Polistes larvae of genes and proteins also differentially expressed during queen vs. worker caste development in honey bees may indicate that regulatory mechanisms of caste outcomes share similarities between primitively eusocial and advanced eusocial Hymenoptera.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere10674
JournalPloS one
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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