University of Oulu

Holman, L., Helanterä, H., Trontti, K., & Mikheyev, A. S. (2019). Comparative transcriptomics of social insect queen pheromones. Nature Communications, 10(1).

Comparative transcriptomics of social insect queen pheromones

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Author: Holman, Luke1; Helanterä, Heikki2; Trontti, Kalevi3;
Organizations: 1School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne
2Ecology and Genetics Research Unit, University of Oulu
3Department of Biosciences, University of Helsinki
4Research School of Biology, Australian National University
5Ecology and evolution unit, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.5 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2019
Publish Date: 2019-05-03


Queen pheromones are chemical signals that mediate reproductive division of labor in eusocial animals. Remarkably, queen pheromones are composed of identical or chemically similar compounds in some ants, wasps and bees, even though these taxa diverged >150MYA and evolved queens and workers independently. Here, we measure the transcriptomic consequences of experimental exposure to queen pheromones in workers from two ant and two bee species (genera: Lasius, Apis, Bombus), and test whether they are similar across species. Queen pheromone exposure affected transcription and splicing at many loci. Many genes responded consistently in multiple species, and the set of pheromone-sensitive genes was enriched for functions relating to lipid biosynthesis and transport, olfaction, production of cuticle, oogenesis, and histone (de)acetylation. Pheromone-sensitive genes tend to be evolutionarily ancient, positively selected, peripheral in the gene coexpression network, hypomethylated, and caste-specific in their expression. Our results reveal how queen pheromones achieve their effects, and suggest that ants and bees use similar genetic modules to achieve reproductive division of labor.

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Series: Nature communications
ISSN: 2041-1723
ISSN-E: 2041-1723
ISSN-L: 2041-1723
Volume: 10
Article number: 1593
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-09567-2
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1184 Genetics, developmental biology, physiology
Funding: This work received funding from the Research School of Biology at Australian National University to LH; a Discovery Project (DP170100772) to LH and ASM; the Kone Foundation to HH; the Academy of Finland to HH (135970, 127390), and the Center of Excellence in Biological Interactions (284666).
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 135970
Detailed Information: 135970 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
127390 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Dataset Reference: Supplementary information:
Copyright information: © The Author(s) 2019. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit