MicroRNAs in Honey Bee Caste Determination

Regan Ashby*, Sylvain Forêt, Iain Searle, Ryszard Maleszka

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    97 Citations (Scopus)


    The cellular mechanisms employed by some organisms to produce contrasting morphological and reproductive phenotypes from the same genome remains one of the key unresolved issues in biology. Honeybees (Apis mellifera) use differential feeding and a haplodiploid sex determination system to generate three distinct organismal outcomes from the same genome. Here we investigate the honeybee female and male caste-specific microRNA and transcriptomic molecular signatures during a critical time of larval development. Both previously undetected and novel miRNAs have been discovered, expanding the inventory of these genomic regulators in invertebrates. We show significant differences in the microRNA and transcriptional profiles of diploid females relative to haploid drone males as well as between reproductively distinct females (queens and workers). Queens and drones show gene enrichment in physio-metabolic pathways, whereas workers show enrichment in processes associated with neuronal development, cell signalling and caste biased structural differences. Interestingly, predicted miRNA targets are primarily associated with non-physio-metabolic genes, especially neuronal targets, suggesting a mechanistic disjunction from DNA methylation that regulates physio-metabolic processes. Accordingly, miRNA targets are under-represented in methylated genes. Our data show how a common set of genetic elements are differentially harnessed by an organism, which may provide the remarkable level of developmental flexibility required.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number18794
    JournalScientific Reports
    Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2016


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