Recombination is associated with the evolution of genome structure and worker behavior in honey bees
The rise of insect societies, marked by the formation of reproductive and sterile castes, represents a major unsolved mystery in evolution. Across several independent origins of sociality, the genomes of social hymenopterans share two peculiar attributes: high recombination and low but heterogeneous GC content. For example, the genome of the honey bee, Apis mellifera, represents a mosaic of GC-poor and GC-rich regions with rates of recombination an order of magnitude higher than in humans. However, it is unclear how heterogeneity in GC content arises, and how it relates to the expression and evolution of worker traits. Using population genetic analyses, we demonstrate a bias in the allele frequency and fixation rate of derived C or G mutations in high-recombination regions, consistent with recombination's causal influence on GC-content evolution via biased gene conversion. We also show that recombination and biased gene conversion actively maintain the heterogeneous GC content of the honey bee genome despite an overall A/T mutation bias. Further, we found that GC-rich genes and intergenic regions have higher levels of genetic diversity and divergence relative to GC-poor regions, also consistent with recombination's causal influence on the rate of molecular evolution. Finally, we found that genes associated with behavior and those with worker-biased expression are found in GC-rich regions of the bee genome and also experience high rates of molecular evolution. Taken together, these findings suggest that recombination acts to maintain a genetically diverse and dynamic part of the genome where genes underlying worker behavior evolve more quickly.