Epigenetics in Bumblebees

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: Genetics


Bumblebees hold the status of being both interesting to the scientific fields of evolution and molecular biology while also being a key species in agriculture and ecosystem services. Bombus terrestris is an established organism for studying the evolution of eusociality, due to its primitive eusocial life cycle, and has had its genome recently published. The discovery of methyltransferases in their genome has turned B. terrestris and other hymenoptera into a model system for investigating epigenetics in non-mammalian organisms. Numerous studies have placed epigenetic gene regulation as an important mechanism with which eusocial evolution has relied upon. Bombus terrestris is also an important commercial species with many fruiting crops, using companies to provide bees for pollination. Several ecological studies have also shown that bumble bees, more than other species of bees, are critical to maintaining the diversity of flora and therefore are an important species for conservation. Recent research has found that pesticides such as neonicitinoids are having a negative effect on bumblebee fitness. One avenue being investigated is the affect neonictnoids are having upon epigenetic gene regulation. As epigenetic gene regulation is involved in many processes it is important, for molecular biology, ecology and food production to understand bumblebee epigenetics mechanistically.
Our study aims to produce transgenic bumble bee lines in order to perturb normal epigenetic regulation, as is done in classical evo-devo studies in model organisms. While transgenic honey bees (Apis melifera) have been produced, both with CRISPR and the piggyBac cassette, there has not been a transgenic line of Bumblebees or other species of primitively eusocial insects. By disrupting epigenetic processes such as methylation we aim to identify key gene networks and molecular mechanisms involved in social organisation as well as the potential effects of methylation altering pesticides.

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M01116X/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2023
1791011 Studentship BB/M01116X/1 03/10/2016 31/03/2021 Alun Robert Jones