The evolution of DNA methylation and its relationship to sociality in insects
DNA methylation contributes to gene and transcriptional regulation in eukaryotes, and therefore has been hypothesized to facilitate the evolution of flexible traits such as sociality in insects. However, DNA methylation is sparsely studied in insects. Therefore, we documented patterns of DNA methylation across a wide diversity of insects. Furthermore, we tested the hypothesis that the DNA methylation system will be associated with presence/absence of sociality among insects. We also predicted
... We also predicted that underlying enzymatic machinery is concordant with patterns of DNA methylation. We found DNA methylation to be widespread, detected in all orders examined except Diptera (flies). Whole genome bisulfite sequencing showed that orders differed in levels of DNA methylation. Hymenopteran (ants, bees, wasps and sawflies) had some of the lowest levels, including several potential losses. Blattodea (cockroaches) show all possible patterns, including a potential loss of DNA methylation in a eusocial species whereas solitary species had the highest levels. Phylogenetically corrected comparisons revealed no evidence that supports evolutionary dependency between sociality and DNA methylation. Species with DNA methylation do not always possess the typical enzymatic machinery. We identified a gene duplication event in the maintenance DNA methyltransferase 1 (DNMT1) that is shared by some hymenopteran, and paralogs have experienced divergent, non-neutral evolution. This diversity and non-neutral evolution of underlying machinery suggests alternative DNA methylation pathways may exist. Altogether, DNA methylation is highly variable in insects and is not a universal driver of social behavior. Future, functional studies are required to advance our understanding of DNA methylation in insects.