Although gene duplication is seen as the main path to evolution of new functions, molecular mechanisms by which selection favours the gain versus loss of newly duplicated genes and minimizes the fixation of pseudo-genes are not well understood. Here, we investigate in detail a duplicate honeybee gene obp11 belonging to a fast evolving insect gene family encoding odorant binding proteins (OBPs). We report that obp11 is expressed only in female bees in rare antennal sensilla basiconica in contrast to its tandem partner obp10 that is expressed in the brain in both females and males (drones). Unlike all other obp genes in the honeybee, obp11 is methylated suggesting that functional diversification of obp11 and obp10 may have been driven by an epigenetic mechanism. We also show that increased methylation in drones near one donor splice site that correlates with higher abundance of a transcript variant encoding a truncated OBP11 protein is one way of controlling its contrasting expression. Our data suggest that like in mammals and plants, DNA methylation in insects may contribute to functional diversification of proteins produced from duplicated genes, in particular to their subfunctionalization by generating complementary patterns of expression.
Kucharski, R., Maleszka, J., & Maleszka, R. (2016). A possible role of DNA methylation in functional divergence of a fast evolving duplicate gene encoding odorant binding protein 11 in the honeybee. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283(1833). https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2016.0558