Gene duplication and the evolution of phenotypic diversity in insect societies

Linh M. Chau, Michael A.D. Goodisman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Gene duplication is an important evolutionary process thought to facilitate the evolution of phenotypic diversity. We investigated if gene duplication was associated with the evolution of phenotypic differences in a highly social insect, the honeybee Apis mellifera. We hypothesized that the genetic redundancy provided by gene duplication could promote the evolution of social and sexual phenotypes associated with advanced societies. We found a positive correlation between sociality and rate of gene duplications across the Apoidea, indicating that gene duplication may be associated with sociality. We also discovered that genes showing biased expression between A. mellifera alternative phenotypes tended to be found more frequently than expected among duplicated genes than singletons. Moreover, duplicated genes had higher levels of caste-, sex-, behavior-, and tissue-biased expression compared to singletons, as expected if gene duplication facilitated phenotypic differentiation. We also found that duplicated genes were maintained in the A. mellifera genome through the processes of conservation, neofunctionalization, and specialization, but not subfunctionalization. Overall, we conclude that gene duplication may have facilitated the evolution of social and sexual phenotypes, as well as tissue differentiation. Thus this study further supports the idea that gene duplication allows species to evolve an increased range of phenotypic diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2871-2884
Number of pages14
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was partially supported by the Elizabeth Smithgall Watts and the Bennie H. and Nelson D. Abell Endowment Fund, and the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) fellowship.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s). Evolution © 2017 The Society for the Study of Evolution.


  • Apis mellifera
  • Hymenoptera
  • caste
  • dimorphism
  • gene duplication
  • gene expression
  • sociality


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