Raising your genes

Social insects are affected by social environment they are raised in.

Genes and our environment interact to determine how we look influenced directly by our genes and indirectly by the genes of other individuals through parental care and sibling effects1. For example a parent’s investment in feeding their offspring affects the way their traits are expressed and therefore offspring fitness1. Dr.Linksvayer talks on direct and indirect genetic effects in social insects.

Mixed ant worker colonies from different nests were used to raise larvae in a “common social environment” and it revealed that phenotypes were determined by genes from larvae and their social carers1. Different ant worker species affect the ant size of the larvae raised by them due to the interaction of the care-giving workers and the genotype of the developing brood, suggesting co-evolution of direct and indirect effects (Figure1)2.

Linksvayer used artificially selected low and high strained pollen bee hoarders to raise high and low strained larvae, to disentangle how the social environment effects trait expression. High strain larvae grew larger and had more ovarioles, as their genes were affected by their social environment3. Artificial hoarders and natural bee’s larvae were reared on worker or queen diets to compare the effect on body size and ovariole number. Queen diet larvae became larger and had more ovarioles, showing that feeding affects trait expression, meaning that workers can determine the larvae’s trait expression.

If the genes of an individual are affected by the individuals that surround and raise them; it could have considerable implications for domestic breeding and animal programmes4. Dr.Linksvayer is currently looking at the genetic basis of complex traits by developing an ant genetic model system5.

  1. Linksvayer T.A. Evolution 60, 2552–2561(2006).
  2. Linksvayer, T.A.PLoS ONE 2, 1-5 (2007).
  3. Linksvayer, T.A. et al. Unpublished.
  4.  Bijma, P., Muir, W. And Van Arendonk, J. A. Genetics 175, 277-288 (2007).
  5. Linksvayer, T.A. Personal communication (2010).