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Methylation and genomic imprinting in the bumblebee, Bombus terrestris

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posted on 2013-03-12, 15:13 authored by Crisenthiya Indunil Clayton
Genomic imprinting, the parent-of-origin specific silencing of alleles, plays an important role in phenotypic plasticity and consequently evolution. The leading explanation for genomic imprinting is Haig's conflict theory, which suggests that alleles from each parent have evolved under different selectional pressures, resulting in the differential expression of patrigenes and matrigenes. Previous studies have mainly used mammals and flowering plants to test Haig’s theory. However, there is a lack of independent evidence to support the theory. My PhD thesis attempts to conduct an independent test of Haig’s conflict theory using buff tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris. A methylation system to facilitate genomic imprinting has not been found in this species. Therefore the first aim of the study was to establish the presence of a functional methylation system in B. terrestris before testing Haig's conflict theory using worker reproduction in queen-less colonies. The initial finding is that a methylation system exists in B. terrestris. The next study, investigating the presence of methylated genes, revealed differential methylation patterns in caste and life stages. Finally, genes involved with worker reproduction in a range of social insects were identified, but distinguishing the matrigene and the patrigene for each gene was unsuccessful. Therefore the final study investigating the presence of imprinted genes in B. terrestris and whether they conform to the expression patterns hypothesised by Haig’s conflict theory could not be analysed. Although this study did not provide conclusive evidence to support Haig’s conflict theory, the presence of methylation in genes involved with worker reproduction in reproducing and non-reproducing B. terrestris workers suggests that further analysis is needed. With adequate evidence, proving Haig’s conflict theory will not only expand our knowledge of invertebrate methylation, but also our understanding of conflict within social insect societies and our knowledge of how genomic imprinting affects phenotypic plasticity.



Mallon, Eamonn

Date of award


Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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    University of Leicester Theses