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Robust DNA Methylation in the Clonal Raider Ant Brain
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  • Alternative Title:
    Curr Biol
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    Social insects are promising model systems for epigenetics due to their immense morphological and behavioral plasticity. Reports that DNA methylation differs between the queen and worker castes in social insects [1-4] have implied a role for DNA methylation in regulating division of labor. To better understand the function of DNA methylation in social insects, we performed whole-genome bisulfite sequencing on brains of the clonal raider ant Cerapachys biroi, whose colonies alternate between reproductive (queen-like) and brood care (worker-like) phases [5]. Many cytosines were methylated in all replicates (on average 29.5% of the methylated cytosines in a given replicate), indicating that a large proportion of the C. biroi brain methylome is robust. Robust DNA methylation occurred preferentially in exonic CpGs of highly and stably expressed genes involved in core functions. Our analyses did not detect any differences in DNA methylation between the queen-like and worker-like phases, suggesting that DNA methylation is not associated with changes in reproduction and behavior in C. biroi. Finally, many cytosines were methylated in one sample only, due to either biological or experimental variation. By applying the statistical methods used in previous studies [1-4, 6] to our data, we show that such sample-specific DNA methylation may underlie the previous findings of queen- and worker-specific methylation. We argue that there is currently no evidence that genome-wide variation in DNA methylation is associated with the queen and worker castes in social insects, and we call for a more careful interpretation of the available data.
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