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Open Access Research article

Suppression subtractive hybridization analysis reveals expression of conserved and novel genes in male accessory glands of the ant Leptothorax gredleri

Angelika Oppelt1*, Fernanda C Humann2, Marion Fuessl1, Sergio V Azevedo3, David S Marco Antonio3, Jürgen Heinze1 and Klaus Hartfelder2

Author Affiliations

1 Biologie I, Universität Regensburg, Universitätsstr. 31, D-93040 Regensburg, Germany

2 Departamento de Biologia Celular e Molecular e Bioagentes Patogênicos, Faculdade de Medicina de Ribeirão Preto, Universidade de São Paulo, Av. Bandeirantes 3900, 14049-900, Ribeirão Preto, Brazil

3 Departamento de Genética, Faculdade de Medicina de Ribeirão Preto, Universidade de São Paulo, Av. Bandeirantes 3900, 14049-900, Ribeirão Preto, Brazil

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:273  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-273

Published: 8 September 2010

Abstract

Background

During mating, insect males eject accessory gland proteins (Acps) into the female genital tract. These substances are known to affect female post-mating behavior and physiology. In addition, they may harm the female, e.g., in reducing its lifespan. This is interpreted as a consequence of sexual antagonistic co-evolution. Whereas sexual conflict abounds in non-social species, the peculiar life history of social insects (ants, bees, wasps) with lifelong pair-bonding and no re-mating aligns the reproductive interests of the sexes. Harming the female during mating would negatively affect male fitness and sexual antagonism is therefore not expected. Indeed, mating appears to increase female longevity in at least one ant species. Acps are presumed to play a role in this phenomenon, but the underlying mechanisms are unknown. In this study, we investigated genes, which are preferentially expressed in male accessory glands of the ant Leptothorax gredleri, to determine which proteins might be transferred in the seminal fluid.

Results

By a suppression subtractive hybridization protocol we obtained 20 unique sequences (USs). Twelve had mutual best matches with genes predicted for Apis mellifera and Nasonia vitripennis. Functional information (Gene Ontology) was available only for seven of these, including intracellular signaling, energy-dependent transport and metabolic enzyme activities. The remaining eight USs did not match sequences from other species. Six genes were further analyzed by quantitative RT-PCR in three life cycle stages of male ants. A gene with carboxy-lyase activity and one of unpredicted function were significantly overexpressed in accessory glands of sexually mature males.

Conclusions

Our study is the first one to investigate differential gene expression in ants in a context related to mating. Our findings indicate that male accessory glands of L. gredleri express a series of genes that are unique to this species, possibly representing novel genes, in addition to conserved ones for which functions can be predicted. Identifying differentially expressed genes might help to better understand molecular mechanisms involved in reproductive processes in eusocial Hymenoptera. While the novel genes could account for rapidly evolving ones driven by intra-sexual conflict between males, conserved genes imply that rather beneficial traits might get fixed by a process described as inter-sexual cooperation between males and females.