Eusociality has arisen independently at least 11 times in insects. Despite this convergence, there are striking differences among eusocial lifestyles, ranging from species living in small colonies with overt conflict over reproduction to species in which colonies contain hundreds of thousands of highly specialized sterile workers produced by one or a few queens. Although the evolution of eusociality has been intensively studied, the genetic changes involved in the evolution of eusociality are relatively unknown. We examined patterns of molecular evolution across three independent origins of eusociality by sequencing transcriptomes of nine socially diverse bee species and combining these data with genome sequence from the honey bee Apis mellifera to generate orthologous sequence alignments for 3,647 genes. We found a shared set of 212 genes with a molecular signature of accelerated evolution across all eusocial lineages studied, as well as unique sets of 173 and 218 genes with a signature of accelerated evolution specific to either highly or primitively eusocial lineages, respectively. These results demonstrate that convergent evolution can involve a mosaic pattern of molecular changes in both shared and lineage-specific sets of genes. Genes involved in signal transduction, gland development, and carbohydrate metabolism are among the most prominent rapidly evolving genes in eusocial lineages. These findings provide a starting point for linking specific genetic changes to the evolution of eusociality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7472-7477
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
StatePublished - May 3 2011


  • Molecular phylogenetics
  • Social evolution
  • Social insects
  • Sociogenomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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