skip to main content

Title: Beyond conflict: Kinship theory of intragenomic conflict predicts individual variation in altruistic behaviour

Behavioural variation is essential for animals to adapt to different social and environmental conditions. The Kinship Theory of Intragenomic Conflict (KTIC) predicts that parent‐specific alleles can support different behavioural strategies to maximize allele fitness. Previous studies, including in honey bees (Apis mellifera), supported predictions of the KTIC for parent‐specific alleles to promote selfish behaviour. Here, we test the KTIC prediction that for altruism‐promoting genes (i.e. those that promote behaviours that support the reproductive fitness of kin), the allele with the higher altruism optimum should be selected to be expressed while the other is silenced. In honey bee colonies, workers act altruistically when tending to the queen by performing a ‘retinue’ behaviour, distributing the queen's mandibular pheromone (QMP) throughout the hive. Workers exposed to QMP do not activate their ovaries, ensuring they care for the queen's brood instead of competing to lay unfertilized eggs. Due to the haplodiploid genetics of honey bees, the KTIC predicts that response to QMP is favoured by the maternal genome. We report evidence for parent‐of‐origin effects on the retinue response behaviour, ovarian development and gene expression in brains of worker honey bees exposed to QMP, consistent with the KTIC. Additionally, we show enrichment for genes with parent‐of‐origin expression bias within gene regulatory networks associated with variation in bees' response to QMP. Our study demonstrates that intragenomic conflict can shape diverse social behaviours and influence expression patterns of single genes as well as gene networks.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Molecular Ecology
Medium: X Size: p. 5823-5837
["p. 5823-5837"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Kin selection may act differently on genes inherited from parents (matrigenes and patrigenes), resulting in intragenomic conflict. This conflict can be observed as differential expression of matrigenes and patrigenes, or parent‐specific gene expression (PSGE). In honey bees (Apis mellifera), intragenomic conflict is hypothesized to occur in multiple social contexts. Previously, we found that patrigene‐biased expression in reproductive tissues was associated with increased reproductive potential in worker honey bees, consistent with the prediction that patrigenes are selected to promote selfish behaviour in this context. Here, we examined brain gene expression patterns to determine if PSGE is also found in other tissues. As before, the number of transcripts showing patrigene expression bias was significantly greater in the brains of reproductive vs. sterile workers, while the number of matrigene‐biased transcripts was not significantly different. Twelve transcripts out of the 374 showing PSGE in either tissue showed PSGE in both brain and reproductive tissues; this overlap was significantly greater than expected by chance. However, the majority of transcripts show PSGE only in one tissue, suggesting the epigenetic mechanisms mediating PSGE exhibit plasticity between tissues. There was no significant overlap between transcripts that showed PSGE and transcripts that were significantly differentially expressed. Weighted gene correlation network analysis identified modules which were significantly enriched in both types of transcripts, suggesting that these genes may influence each other through gene networks. Our results provide further support for the kin selection theory of intragenomic conflict, and provide valuable insights into the mechanisms which may mediate this process.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Conflict between genes inherited from the mother (matrigenes) and the father (patrigenes) is predicted to arise during social interactions among offspring if these genes are not evenly distributed among offspring genotypes. This intragenomic conflict drives parent-specific transcription patterns in offspring resulting from parent-specific epigenetic modifications. Previous tests of the kinship theory of intragenomic conflict in honey bees (Apis mellifera) provided evidence in support of theoretical predictions for variation in worker reproduction, which is associated with extreme variation in morphology and behavior. However, more subtle behaviors – such as aggression – have not been extensively studied. Additionally, the canonical epigenetic mark (DNA methylation) associated with parent-specific transcription in plant and mammalian model species does not appear to play the same role as in honey bees, and thus the molecular mechanisms underlying intragenomic conflict in this species is an open area of investigation. Here, we examined the role of intragenomic conflict in shaping aggression in honey bee workers through a reciprocal cross design and Oxford Nanopore direct RNA sequencing. We attempted to probe the underlying regulatory basis of this conflict through analyses of parent-specific RNA m6A and alternative splicing patterns. We report evidence that intragenomic conflict occurs in the context of honey bee aggression, with increased paternal and maternal allele-biased transcription in aggressive compared to non-aggressive bees, and higher paternal allele-biased transcription overall. However, we found no evidence to suggest that RNA m6A or alternative splicing mediate intragenomic conflict in this species.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    In a rapidly warming world, exposure to high temperatures may impact fitness, but the gene regulatory mechanisms that link sublethal heat to sexually selected traits are not well understood, particularly in endothermic animals. Our experiment used zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), songbirds that experience extreme temperature fluctuations in their native Australia. We exposed captive males to an acute thermal challenge (43°C) compared with thermoneutral (35°C) and lower (27°C) temperatures. We found significantly more heat dissipation behaviours at 43°C, a temperature previously shown to reduce song production and fertility, and more heat retention behaviours at 27°C. Next, we characterized transcriptomic responses in tissues important for mating effort—the posterior telencephalon, for its role in song production, and the testis, for its role in fertility and hormone production. Differential expression of hundreds of genes in the testes, but few in the brain, suggests the brain is less responsive to extreme temperatures. Nevertheless, gene network analyses revealed that expression related to dopaminergic signalling in the brain covaried with heat dissipation behaviours, providing a mechanism by which temporary thermal challenges may alter motivational circuits for song production. In both brain and testis, we observed correlations between thermally sensitive gene networks and individual differences in thermoregulatory behaviour. Although we cannot directly relate these gene regulatory changes to mating success, our results suggest that individual variation in response to thermal challenges could impact sexually selected traits in a warming world.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    The neurogenomic mechanisms mediating male–male reproductive cooperative behaviours remain unknown. We leveraged extensive transcriptomic and behavioural data on a neotropical bird species (Pipra filicauda) that performs cooperative courtship displays to understand these mechanisms. In this species, the cooperative display is modulated by testosterone, which promotes cooperation in non‐territorial birds, but suppresses cooperation in territory holders. We sought to understand the neurogenomic underpinnings of three related traits: social status, cooperative display behaviour and testosterone phenotype. To do this, we profiled gene expression in 10 brain nuclei spanning the social decision‐making network (SDMN), and two key endocrine tissues that regulate social behaviour. We associated gene expression with each bird's behavioural and endocrine profile derived from 3 years of repeated measures taken from free‐living birds in the Ecuadorian Amazon. We found distinct landscapes of constitutive gene expression were associated with social status, testosterone phenotype and cooperation, reflecting the modular organization and engagement of neuroendocrine tissues. Sex‐steroid and neuropeptide signalling appeared to be important in mediating status‐specific relationships between testosterone and cooperation, suggesting shared regulatory mechanisms with male aggressive and sexual behaviours. We also identified differentially regulated genes involved in cellular activity and synaptic potentiation, suggesting multiple mechanisms underpin these genomic states. Finally, we identified SDMN‐wide gene expression differences between territorial and floater males that could form the basis of ‘status‐specific’ neurophysiological phenotypes, potentially mediated by testosterone and growth hormone. Overall, our findings provide new, systems‐level insights into the mechanisms of cooperative behaviour and suggest that differences in neurogenomic state are the basis for individual differences in social behaviour.

    more » « less
  5. For social animals, the genotypes of group members affect the social environment, and thus individual behavior, often indirectly. We used genome-wide association studies (GWAS) to determine the influence of individual vs. group genotypes on aggression in honey bees. Aggression in honey bees arises from the coordinated actions of colony members, primarily nonreproductive “soldier” bees, and thus, experiences evolutionary selection at the colony level. Here, we show that individual behavior is influenced by colony environment, which in turn, is shaped by allele frequency within colonies. Using a population with a range of aggression, we sequenced individual whole genomes and looked for genotype–behavior associations within colonies in a common environment. There were no significant correlations between individual aggression and specific alleles. By contrast, we found strong correlations between colony aggression and the frequencies of specific alleles within colonies, despite a small number of colonies. Associations at the colony level were highly significant and were very similar among both soldiers and foragers, but they covaried with one another. One strongly significant association peak, containing an ortholog of the Drosophila sensory gene dpr4 on linkage group (chromosome) 7, showed strong signals of both selection and admixture during the evolution of gentleness in a honey bee population. We thus found links between colony genetics and group behavior and also, molecular evidence for group-level selection, acting at the colony level. We conclude that group genetics dominates individual genetics in determining the fatal decision of honey bees to sting. 
    more » « less