Kinship theory provides a universal framework in which to understand the evolution of altruism, but there are many molecular and genetic mechanisms that can generate altruistic behaviors. Interestingly, kinship theory specifically predicts intragenomic conflict between maternally-derived alleles (matrigenes) and paternally-derived alleles (patrigenes) over the generation of altruistic behavior in cases where the interests of the matrigenes and patrigenes are not aligned. Under these conditions, individual differences in selfish versus altruistic behavior are predicted to arise from differential expression of the matrigenes and patrigenes (parent-specific gene expression or PSGE) that regulate selfish versus altruistic behaviors. As one of the leading theories to describe PSGE and genomic imprinting, kinship theory has been used to generate predictions to describe the reproductive division of labor in social insect colonies, which represents an excellent model system to test the hypotheses of kinship theory and examine the underlying mechanisms driving it. Recent studies have confirmed the predicted differences in the influence of matrigenes and patrigenes on reproductive division of labor in social insects, and demonstrated that these differences are associated with differences in PSGE of key genes involved in regulating reproductive physiology, providing further support for kinship theory. However, the mechanisms mediating PSGE in social insects, and how PSGE leads to differences in selfish versus altruistic behavior, remain to be determined. Here, we review the available supporting evidence for three possible epigenetic mechanisms (DNA methylation, piRNAs, and histone modification) that may generate PSGE in social insects, and discuss how these may lead to variation in social behavior.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Animal Science and Zoology
- Plant Science