August 21, 2012, Shenzhen, China An international team led by New York University School of Medicine and BGI, the largest genomics organization in the world, has completed the first genome-wide and single-nucleotide resolution DNA methylomes of two ant species: Camponotus floridanus and Harpegnathos saltator. It provides new insights into the relationship between epigenetic regulation and caste differentiation of ants and also shed light on the epigenetic mechanism involved in social behavior, neurobiology and life-span of other animals. The latest study was published in Current Biology, one sister journal of Cell.
As one of the eusocial species, ants live in a society with strict hierarchy. Their colony members show extreme phenotypic plasticity, usually varying in morphology, behavior and physiology. The two ant species used in this study, C. floridanus and H. saltator, contrast in their behavioral flexibility, caste specialization, and social organization. C. floridanus lives in large organized colonies, in which only the queen lays fertilized eggs; when the queen dies, so does the colony. Non-reproductive individuals belong to two separate castes, major and minor workers, which exhibit differences in morphology and behavior established during development purely on environmental grounds. In contrast, the H. saltator social system and division of labor are more basal: dimorphism between queens and workers is limited, and when the queen dies she is replaced by workers that become functional queens, called gamergates. Thus, these two ant species provide compelling experimental paradigms to investigate epigenetic processes that affect organisms as a whole.
In this study, the researchers sequenced and analyzed the methylomes of different castes and different developmental stages of C. floridanus and H. saltator. They reported that, in the ant genomes, methylcytosines are found both in
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