Ageing in bees
Eusocial insect queens are remarkable in their ability to maximize both fecundity and longevity, thus escaping the typical trade-off between these two traits. Several mechanisms have been proposed to underlie the remolding of the trade-off, such as reshaping of the juvenile hormone (JH) pathway, or caste-specific susceptibility to oxidative stress. However, it remains a challenge to disentangle the molecular mechanisms underlying the remolding of the trade-off in eusocial insects from caste-specific physiological attributes that have subsequently arisen. The socially polymorphic orchid bee Euglossa viridissima represents an excellent model to address the role of sociality per se in longevity as it allows direct comparisons of solitary and social individuals within a common genetic background. We investigated gene expression and JH levels in young and old bees from both solitary and social nests. We found 902 genes to be differentially expressed with age in solitary females, including genes involved in oxidative stress, versus only 100 genes in social dominant females, and 13 genes in subordinate females. A weighted gene coexpression network analysis further highlights pathways related to ageing in this species, including the target of rapamycin pathway. Eleven genes involved in translation, apoptosis, and DNA repair show concurrent age-related expression changes in solitary but not in social females, representing potential differences based on social status. JH titers did not vary with age or social status. Our results represent an important step in understanding the proximate mechanisms underlying the remodeling of the fecundity/longevity trade-off that accompanies the evolutionary transition from solitary life to eusociality.