Elevated expression of ageing and immunity genes in queens of the black garden ant

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Studies in model organisms have identified a variety of genes whose expression can be experimentally modulated to produce changes in longevity, but whether these genes are the same as those involved in natural variation in lifespan remains unclear. Social insects boast some of the largest lifespan differences known between plastic phenotypes, with queen and worker lifespans differing by an order of magnitude despite no systematic nucleotide sequence differences between them. The contrasting lifespans of queens and workers are thus the result of differences in gene expression. We used RNA sequencing of brains and legs in 1-day-old and 2-month-old individuals of the ant Lasius niger to determine whether genes with queen-biased expression are enriched for genes linked to ageing in model organisms. Because the great longevity of queens may require investment into immune processes, we also investigated whether queen-biased genes are enriched for genes with known roles in immunity. Queen-biased genes in legs were enriched for ageing genes and for genes associated with increasing rather than decreasing lifespan. Queen-biased genes in legs were also enriched for immune genes, but only in 1-day-old individuals, perhaps linked to the changing roles of workers with age. Intriguingly, the single most differentially expressed gene between 1-day-old queen and worker brains was an extra-cellular form of CuZn Superoxide Dismutase (SOD3), raising the possibility of an important role of anti-oxidant genes in modulating lifespan.HIGHLIGHTSAnt queens can live an order of magnitude longer than workers.Both ageing and immune genes were more highly expressed in queens compared to workers.However, these differences were only significant in some age/tissue combinations.Extracellular superoxide dismutase was the single most queen-biased gene in brains.

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