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Caste‐specific microRNA expression in termites: insights into soldier differentiation

Matsunami, M., Nozawa, M., Suzuki, R., Toga, K., Masuoka, Y., Yamaguchi, K., Maekawa, K., Shigenobu, S., Miura, T.
Insect molecular biology 2019 v.28 no.1 pp. 86-98
Hymenoptera, Reticulitermes speratus, caste determination, gene expression regulation, genes, hormones, microRNA, phylogeny, polyphenism, quantitative polymerase chain reaction, social insects, subterranean termites
Eusocial insects have polyphenic caste systems in which each caste exhibits characteristic morphology and behaviour. In insects, caste systems arose independently in different lineages, such as Isoptera and Hymenoptera. Although partial molecular mechanisms for the development of eusociality in termites have been clarified by the functional analysis of genes and hormones, the contribution of microRNAs (miRNAs) to caste differentiation is unknown. To understand the role of miRNAs in termite caste polyphenism, we performed small RNA sequencing in a subterranean termite (Reticulitermes speratus) and identified the miRNAs that were specifically expressed in the soldier and worker castes. Of the 550 miRNAs annotated in the R. speratus genome, 74 were conserved in insects and 174 were conserved in other termite species. We found that eight miRNAs (mir‐1, mir‐125, mir‐133, mir‐2765, mir‐87a and three termite‐specific miRNAs) are differentially expressed (DE) in soldiers and workers of R. speratus. This differential expression was experimentally verified for five miRNAs by real‐time quantitative PCR. Further, four of the eight DE miRNAs in soldier and worker termite castes were also differentially expressed in hymenopteran castes. The finding that Isoptera and Hymenoptera shared several DE miRNAs amongst castes suggests that these miRNAs evolved independently in these phylogenetically distinct lineages.