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Parent of origin gene expression in the bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, supports Haig’s kinship theory for the evolution of genomic imprinting

By H. Marshall, Jelle S. van Zweden, Anneleen Van Geystelen, Kristof Benaets, Felix Wäckers, E.B. Mallon, Tom Wenseleers

Posted 17 Jan 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.01.17.909168

Genomic imprinting is the differential expression of alleles in diploid individuals, with the expression being dependent upon the sex of the parent from which it was inherited. Haig’s kinship theory hypothesizes that genomic imprinting is due to an evolutionary conflict of interest between alleles from the mother and father. In social insects, it has been suggested that genomic imprinting should be widespread. One recent study identified parent-of-origin expression in honeybees and found evidence supporting the kinship theory. However, little is known about genomic imprinting in insects and multiple theoretical predictions must be tested to avoid single-study confirmation bias. We, therefore, tested for parent-of-origin expression in a primitively eusocial bee. We found equal numbers of maternally and paternally biased expressed alleles. The most highly biased alleles were maternally expressed, offering support for the kinship theory. We also found low conservation of potentially imprinted genes with the honeybee, suggesting rapid evolution of genomic imprinting in Hymenoptera. Impact summary Genomic imprinting is the differential expression of alleles in diploid individuals, with the expression being dependent upon the sex of the parent from which it was inherited. Genomic imprinting is an evolutionary paradox. Natural selection is expected to favour expression of both alleles in order to protect against recessive mutations that render a gene ineffective. What then is the benefit of silencing one copy of a gene, making the organism functionally haploid at that locus? Several explanations for the evolution of genomic imprinting have been proposed. Haig’s kinship theory is the most developed and best supported. Haig’s theory is based on the fact that maternally (matrigene) and paternally (patrigene) inherited genes in the same organism can have different interests. For example, in a species with multiple paternity, a patrigene has a lower probability of being present in siblings that are progeny of the same mother than does a matrigene. As a result, a patrigene will be selected to value the survival of the organism it is in more highly, compared to the survival of siblings. This is not the case for a matrigene. Kinship theory is central to our evolutionary understanding of imprinting effects in human health and plant breeding. Despite this, it still lacks a robust, independent test. Colonies of social bees consist of diploid females (queens and workers) and haploid males created from unfertilised eggs. This along with their social structures allows for novel predictions of Haig’s theory. In this paper, we find parent of origin allele specific expression in the important pollinator, the buff-tailed bumblebee. We also find, as predicted by Haig’s theory, a balanced number of genes showing matrigenic or patrigenic bias with the most extreme bias been found in matrigenically biased genes.

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