Published on Sat Aug 28 2021

Abundant small RNAs in the reproductive tissues of the honey bee, Apis mellifera, are a plausible mechanism for epigenetic inheritance and parental manipulation of gene expression

Watson, O. T., Buchmann, G., Young, P., Lo, K., Remnant, E. J., Yagound, B., Shambrook, M., Hill, A. F., Oldroyd, B. P., Ashe, A.

There is good evidence for parent-of-origin effects in honey bees. The epigenetic mechanisms that underlie these effects remain a mystery. Small RNA molecules such as miRNAs, piRNAs and siRNAs play important roles in transgenerational epigenetic inheritance.

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Abstract

Polyandrous social insects such as the honey bee are prime candidates for parental manipulation of gene expression in offspring. Although there is good evidence for parent-of-origin effects in honey bees the epigenetic mechanisms that underlie these effects remain a mystery. Small RNA molecules such as miRNAs, piRNAs and siRNAs play important roles in transgenerational epigenetic inheritance and in the regulation of gene expression during development. Here we present the first characterisation of small RNAs present in honey bee reproductive tissues: ovaries, spermatheca, semen, fertilised and unfertilised eggs, and testes. We show that semen contains fewer piRNAs relative to eggs and ovaries, and that piRNAs and miRNAs which map antisense to genes involved in DNA regulation and developmental processes are differentially expressed between tissues. tRNA fragments are highly abundant in semen and have a similar profile to those seen in semen in other animals. Intriguingly we find abundant piRNAs that target the sex determination locus, suggesting that piRNAs may play a role in honey bee sex determination. We conclude that small RNAs play a fundamental role in honey bee gametogenesis and reproduction and provide a plausible mechanism for parent-of origin-effects on gene expression and reproductive physiology.