Transcriptome changes reveal the genetic mechanisms of the reproductive plasticity of workers in lower termites
The reproductive plasticity of termite workers provides colonies with tremendous flexibility to respond to environmental changes, which is the basis for evolutionary and ecological success. Although it is known that all colony members share the same genetic background and that differences in castes are caused by differences in gene expression, the pattern of the specific expression of genes involved in the differentiation of workers into reproductives remains unclear. In this study, the
... study, the transition of the female workers into neotenic reproductives (NRs) was induced by a groups of isolated workers (IWs) of Reticulitermes labralis, and then comparative transcriptomes were used for the first time to reveal the molecular mechanisms underlying the reproductive plasticity of workers. Results: We identified 38,070 differentially expressed genes and found profile 5 to be the pattern of gene expression involved in the differentiation of the workers into reproductives. 12,543 genes were specifically upregulated in the IWs. Twenty-five signal transduction pathways classified into environmental information processing were related to the differentiation of workers into NRs. Ras functions as a signalling switch regulated the reproductive plasticity of workers.The catalase gene which is related to longevity was up-regulated in NRs. Conclusion: We demonstrate that workers leaving the natal colony can induce the expression of stage-specific genes in the workers, which leads to the differentiation of workers into queens and suggests that the signal transduction along the Ras-MAPK pathway crucially controls the reproductive plasticity of the workers. This study also provides an important model for revealing the molecular mechanism of longevity changes.