Background: DNA methylation is a common regulator of gene expression, including acting as a regulator of developmental events and behavioral changes in adults. Using the unique system of genetic caste determination in Pogonomyrmex barbatus, we were able to document changes in DNA methylation during development, and also across both ancient and contemporary hybridization events. Methodology/Principal Findings: Sodium bisulfite sequencing demonstrated in vivo methylation of symmetric CG dinucleotides in P. barbatus. We also found methylation of non-CpG sequences. This validated two bioinformatics methods for predicting gene methylation, the bias in observed to expected ratio of CpG dinucleotides and the density of CpG/TpG single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP). Frequencies of genomic DNA methylation were determined for different developmental stages and castes using ms-AFLP assays. The genetic caste determination system (GCD) is probably the product of an ancestral hybridization event between P. barbatus and P. rugosus. Two lineages obligately co-occur within a GCD population, and queens are derived from intra-lineage matings whereas workers are produced from inter-lineage matings. Relative DNA methylation levels of queens and workers from GCD lineages (contemporary hybrids) were not significantly different until adulthood. Virgin queens had significantly higher relative levels of DNA methylation compared to workers. Worker DNA methylation did not vary among developmental stages within each lineage, but was significantly different between the currently hybridizing lineages. Finally, workers of the two genetic caste determination lineages had half as many methylated cytosines as workers from the putative parental species, which have environmental caste determination. Conclusions/Significance: These results suggest that DNA methylation may be a conserved regulatory mechanism moderating division of labor in both bees and ants. Current and historic hybridization appear to have altered genomic methylation levels suggesting a possible link between changes in overall DNA methylation and the origin and regulation of genetic caste determination in P. barbatus.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)