Harrison, MC, Jaimes Nino LM, Almeida Rodrigues M, Ryll J, Flatt T, Oettler J, Bornberg-Bauer E
Gene co-expression network reveals highly conserved,well-regulated anti-ageing mechanisms in old ant queens
Molecular Biology & Evolution, 2020

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Evolutionary theories of ageing predict a reduction in selection efficiency with age, a so-called `selection shadow', due to extrinsic mortality decreasing effective population size with age. Classic symptoms of ageing include a deterioration in transcriptional regulation and protein homeostasis. Understanding how ant queens defy the trade-off between fecundity and lifespan remains a major challenge for the evolutionary theory of ageing. It has often been discussed that the low extrinsic mortality of ant queens, that are generally well protected within the nest by workers and soldiers, should reduce the selection shadow acting on old queens. We tested this by comparing strength of selection acting on genes upregulated in young and old queens of the ant, Cardiocondyla obscurior. In support of a reduced selection shadow, we find old-biased genes to be under strong purifying selection. We also analysed a gene co-expression network (GCN) with the aim to detect signs of ageing in the form of deteriorating regulation and proteostasis. We fi nd no evidence for ageing. In fact, we detect higher connectivity in old queens indicating increased transcriptional regulation with age. Within the GCN, we discover five highly correlated modules that are upregulated with age. These old-biased modules regulate several anti-ageing mechanisms such as maintenance of proteostasis, transcriptional regulation and stress response. We observe stronger purifying selection on central hub genes of these old-biased modules compared to young-biased modules. These results indicate a lack of transcriptional ageing in old C. obscurior queens possibly facilitated by strong selection at old age and well-regulated anti-ageing mechanisms.