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The Doublesex sex determination pathway regulates reproductive division of labor in honey bees

By Mariana Velasque, Lijun Qiu, Alexander S. Mikheyev

Posted 04 May 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/314492

Eusociality, the ultimate level of social organization, requires reproductive division of labor, and a sophisticated system of communication to maintain societal homeostasis. Reproductive division of labor is maintained by physiological differences between reproductive and sterile castes, typically dictated by pheromonal queen fertility signals that suppress worker reproduction. Intriguingly, reproduction and pheromonal signalling share regulatory machinery across insects.The gene Doublesex (Dsx) controls somatic sex determination and differentiation, including the development of ovaries and secondary sexual characteristics, such as pheromonal signalling. We hypothesized that this regulatory network was co-opted during eusocial evolution to regulate reproductive division of labor. Taking advantage of the breakdown in reproductive division of labor that occurs in honey bees when workers commence to lay eggs in the absence of a queen, we knocked down Dsx to observe effects on ovary development and fertility signal production. As expected, treated workers had lower levels of egg yolk protein, for which Dsx is a cis-regulatory enhancer in other insects, and greatly reduced ovary development. Also as expected, while control workers increased their levels of pheromonal fertility signals, treated workers did not, confirming the role of Dsx in regulating pheromone biosynthesis. We further found that Dsx is part of a large network enriched for regulatory proteins, which is also involved during early larval development, and upregulated in queen-destined larvae. Thus, the ancient developmental framework controlling sex specification and reproduction in solitary insects has been exapted for eusociality, forming the basis for reproductive division of labor and pheromonal signalling pathways.

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