Lifespan differences between queens and workers are not explained by rates of molecular damage

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Abstract

The biological processes that underlie senescence are of universal biological importance, yet they remain poorly understood. A popular theory proposes that senescence is the result of limited investment into mechanisms involved in the prevention and repair of molecular damage, leading to an accumulation of molecular damage with age. In ants, queen and worker lifespans differ by an order of magnitude, and this remarkable difference in lifespan has been shown to be associated with differences in the expression of genes involved in DNA and protein repair. Here we use the comet assay and Western Blotting for poly-ubiquitinated proteins to explore whether these differences in expression lead to differences in the accumulation of DNA damage (comet assay) or protein damage (protein ubiquitination) with age. Surprisingly, there was no difference between queens and workers in the rate of accumulation of DNA damage. We also found that levels of ubiquitinated proteins decreased with age, as previously reported in honeybees. This is in contrast to what has been found in model organisms such as worms and flies. Overall, these results reveal that the link between investment into macromolecular repair, age-related damage accumulation and lifespan is more complex than usually recognised.

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