University of Oulu

Morandin, C., Hietala, A. & Helanterä, H. Vitellogenin and vitellogenin-like gene expression patterns in relation to caste and task in the ant Formica fusca. Insect. Soc. 66, 519–531 (2019).

Vitellogenin and vitellogenin-like gene expression patterns in relation to caste and task in the ant Formica fusca

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Author: Morandin, C.1,2; Hietala, A.1,3; Helanterä, H.1,2,4
Organizations: 1Organismal and Evolutionary Biology Research Programme, Evolution Sociality and Behaviour Group, Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
2Department of Ecology and Evolution, Biophore, University of Lausanne, 1015, Lausanne, Switzerland
3Tvärminne Research Station, University of Helsinki, Hanko, Finland
4Ecology and Genetics Research Unit, Faculty of Science, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.8 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2019
Publish Date: 2020-02-11


Social insect colonies are characterized by division of labour, and extensive morphological, physiological and behavioural differences between queens and workers. The storage protein vitellogenin (Vg) affects multiple aspects of social insect life histories, and has been suggested as a key player for caste differentiation and maintenance. Recently, three genes homologous to Vg have been described in the ant Formica exsecta. Their role is currently unclear but their structural variation suggests variable functions. We examined the expression patterns of the conventional Vg and the three Vg-like genes using qRT-PCR in the common black ant Formica fusca between queens and workers, between nurse and foragers workers, and across social contexts (queenless vs. queenright nests), and sampling time. As expected, we found a significant queen caste and nurse task-related increase for the conventional Vg, while Vg-like-C displayed a consistent forager-biased expression pattern. Task (forager vs. nurse) was the only factor that explained expression variation among workers in any of the studied genes. The removal of the queen did not affect expression, although the proportion of fertile nurses increased in queenless nests. The observed expression biases suggest that in Formica fusca, the ancestral duplication has led to alternative social functions for Vg-like genes across castes and tasks. To get a broader picture of the role of gene duplications in social evolution and the roles of Vg-like genes in caste differentiation and maintenance, how these genes achieve these roles at a molecular level need to be investigated further.

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Series: Insectes sociaux
ISSN: 0020-1812
ISSN-E: 1420-9098
ISSN-L: 0020-1812
Volume: 66
Issue: 4
Pages: 519 - 531
DOI: 10.1007/s00040-019-00725-9
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1184 Genetics, developmental biology, physiology
Funding: Open access funding provided by University of Helsinki including Helsinki University Central Hospital. This work was supported by a EMBO Long-Term Fellowship (ALTF 476-2018) to CM, Tvärminne Zoological Station, by the Academy of Finland (grant numbers 140990,135970, and 273029 to HH, and 252411, 284666 to the Centre of Excellence in Biological Interactions), by the University of Helsinki, by the Kone Foundation (HH), by the Wiipurilaisen Osakunnan stipendisäätiö (AH) and by the Societas Pro Fauna et Flora Fennica (AH).
Copyright information: © The Author(s) 2019. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided 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.