Molecular Biology

Epigenetic plasticity

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Science  06 Dec 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6470, pp. 1210-1211
DOI: 10.1126/science.366.6470.1210-a

Worker phenotypes of genetically identical Florida carpenter ants are determined by epigenetic modification.

PHOTO: GRAHAM, BERGER LAB, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

The Florida carpenter ant, Camponotus floridanus, is a social insect with two worker castes that, despite sharing the same genome, are phenotypically distinct: “Major” workers defend the nest, and “minor” workers forage. Because major workers can be experimentally reprogrammed into minor workers, they are a great system to study the underlying epigenetic mechanisms for phenotypic differentiation. Glastad et al. compared gene expression in the brains of reprogramming-capable younger and reprogramming-incapable older major workers, as well as in the brains of major and minor workers during reprogramming. Chromatin repressor CoREST is up-regulated and required during reprogramming to repress major-biased genes, including enzymes that degrade juvenile hormone, which is key for regulating caste specificity. Thus, a chromatin-based mechanism that links transient epigenetic plasticity to long-lasting and complex social behavior has been uncovered.

Mol. Cell 10.1016/j.molcel.2019.10.012 (2019).

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