Browsing by Subject "ecology and Evolution"

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  • Morandin, Claire (Helsingin yliopisto, 2015)
    Understanding how the interaction of genotypes and environment may result in distinct phenotypes from similar sets of genes is a central theme in evolutionary biology. Social insects have been important study organisms for this question, with sociality evolving in parallel in unrelated taxa. The defining feature of advanced sociality, the separate reproductive queen and non-reproductive worker castes of social insects, is central to social evolution. Queens and workers share, most of the time, a similar genome, suggesting that the basis of this dimorphism must result from differences in expression of the same genes. Furthermore, workers forgo their own reproduction to help raise the offspring of the queen, thus queen and worker genes are expected to experience natural selection in unique ways. Yet, the regulatory architecture that governs queen and worker phenotypes remains largely unknown in social insects. This thesis demonstrates the plasticity of caste-biased expression patterns in ants at several levels. It shows that few genes retain their caste-biased expression patterns across closely related species, lineages, or development stages. For the first time, this thesis shows that biological functions, through conserved sets of genes, are strongly associated with caste phenotypic differences across the ant phylogeny. These sets of genes also appear to be co-opted for other types of key social phenotypes and likely serve as building blocks of phenotypic innovation. My thesis furthermore focuses on the interactions between caste-biased expression patterns and rates of molecular evolution to comprehend the origins and results of caste-biases. The work presented in this thesis shows that evolutionary constraints strongly affect evolutionary rates of protein-coding genes, gene expression evolutionary stability, and the ability of a gene to become caste-biased. These constraints are significant features that have been greatly under-appreciated in previous studies. The work in this thesis takes advantage of the power of genomic methodologies and technologies to provide new insights into mechanisms of social evolution, and the evolution of plastic gene expression in a more general framework. It builds on existing knowledge to provide the field of social insect research with novel concepts (e.g. co-expressed network) to understand the molecular mechanisms behind the origin and the maintenance of the two female castes.