Epigenetics in Social Insects

Karl M. Glastad, Linh M. Chau, Michael A.D. Goodisman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Social insects enjoy great ecological success. The success of social insects stems from the remarkable levels of phenotypic plasticity displayed by colony members. This developmental plasticity is mediated by epigenetic inheritance. This review explores epigenetic inheritance and considers the function of epigenetic information systems in social insect taxa. Epigenetic information in eukaryotic organisms is passed across cell divisions through three major mechanisms: the methylation of DNA, the modification of histone proteins, and the activity of non-coding RNAs. Several studies have found that patterns of DNA methylation in social insects are widely conserved and that there are strong associations between levels of DNA methylation and gene function. Studies of histone proteins demonstrate the presence of conserved modifications associated with patterns of gene expression. Finally, preliminary research suggests that non-coding RNAs function within social insect genomes and can influence social insect phenotype. Overall, much remains to be learned about epigenetic inheritance in social insects. However, initial studies suggest that epigenetic mechanisms play a large role in the development of social insects and may help explain the success of insect societies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-269
Number of pages43
JournalAdvances in Insect Physiology
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Caste
  • Chromatin
  • DNA methylation
  • Epigenetic inheritance
  • Eusocial insect
  • Gene expression
  • Gene regulation
  • Histone modifications
  • Non-coding RNA

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