Contrasting Sex-and Caste-Dependent piRNA Profiles in the Transposon Depleted Haplodiploid Honeybee Apis mellifera

Weiwen Wang, Regan Ashby, Hua Ying, Ryszard Maleszka, Sylvain Forêt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
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Protecting genome integrity against transposable elements is achieved by intricate molecular mechanisms involving PIWI proteins, their associated small RNAs (piRNAs), and epigenetic modifiers such as DNA methylation. Eusocial bees, in particular the Western honeybee, Apis mellifera, have one of the lowest contents of transposable elements in the animal kingdom, and, unlike other animals with a functional DNA methylation system, appear not to methylate their transposons. This raises the question of whether the PIWI machinery has been retained in this species. Using comparative genomics, mass spectrometry, and expressional profiling, we present seminal evidence that the piRNA system is conserved in honeybees. We show that honey bee piRNAs contain a 2'-O-methyl modification at the 3' end, and have a bias towards a 5' terminal U, which are signature features of their biogenesis. Both piRNA repertoire and expression levels are greater in reproductive individuals than in sterile workers. Haploid males, where the detrimental effects of transposons are dominant, have the greatest piRNA levels, but surprisingly, the highest expression of transposons. These results show that even in a transposon-depleted species, the piRNA system is required to guard the vulnerable haploid genome and reproductive castes against transposon-associated genomic instability. This also suggests that dosage plays an important role in the regulation of transposons and piRNAs expression in haplo-diploid systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1341-1356
Number of pages16
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017


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