Sociality is linked to rates of protein evolution in a highly social insect

Eusocial insects exhibit unparalleled levels of cooperation and dominate terrestrial ecosystems. The success of eusocial insects stems from the presence of specialized castes that undertake distinct tasks. We investigated whether the evolutionary transition to societies with discrete castes was associated with changes in protein evolution. We predicted that proteins with caste-biased gene expression would evolve rapidly due to reduced antagonistic pleiotropy. We found that queen-biased proteins of the honeybee Apis mellifera did indeed evolve rapidly, as predicted. However, worker-biased proteins exhibited slower evolutionary rates than queen-biased or non-biased proteins. We suggest that distinct selective pressures operating on caste-biased genes, rather than a general reduction in pleiotropy, explain the observed differences in evolutionary rates. Our study highlights, for the first time, the interaction between highly social behavior and dynamics of protein evolution.