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Alvarado S, Rajakumar R, Abouheif E, Szyf M

Epigenetic variation in the Egfr gene generates quantitative variation in a complex trait in ants

Nat Commun. 2015 Mar 11;6:6513. doi: 10.1038/ncomms7513. PubMed Link

How is variation reguated in a natural population? A complex trait like human height can manifest itself discretely (i.e.: shortest vs tallest) or continuously (everything in between). Continuous variation has been long been regarded to be determined by genetic variation and therefore fixed at conception. However, little is known as to how environmental influences and their associated molecular mechanisms can contribute to this variation. In a collaboration between Abouheif and Szyf Labs, the role of a DNA methylation and the continuum of size was investigated within Florida carpenter ants. Co-lead authors Sebastian Alvarado and Rajendran Rajakumar, demonstrated that variations in DNA methylation at a genomic level and in an individual gene could regulate the continuum of worker ant size. This was shown via pharmacological dissection of the DNA methylation machinery and the candidate regulator of epidermal growth factor receptor. This work underlines the importance of epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation in complementing our current understanding of how genes underlie a given biological trait.