There are few studies I enjoyed working on as much as this one with Claire, which is a major chapter in her Ph.D. thesis. Her hard work paid off in an Genome Biology paper titled “Comparative transcriptomics reveals the conserved building blocks involved in parallel evolution of diverse phenotypic traits in ants”. You can read the OIST press release here.
In this study we looked at adult whole-body queen and worker transcriptomes more than a dozen ant species, with the goal of determining whether the same genes are involved in the maintenance of castes. We found that there are many co-expressed gene networks that are associated with queen/worker differentiation. Even more surprisingly, they were associated with other traits, which evolved multiple times in ants, such as queen number, and even the propensity to become invasive. This suggests that the transcriptome has large blocks of possibly co-adapted genes, which may become repeatedly involved in the evolution of diverse traits.