The genetic mechanism of selfishness and altruism in parent-offspring coadaptation

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science Advances  03 Jan 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 1, eaaw0070
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw0070


The social bond between parents and offspring is characterized by coadaptation and balance between altruistic and selfish tendencies. However, its underlying genetic mechanism remains poorly understood. Using transcriptomic screens in the subsocial European earwig, Forficula auricularia, we found the expression of more than 1600 genes associated with experimentally manipulated parenting. We identified two genes, Th and PebIII, each showing evidence of differential coexpression between treatments in mothers and their offspring. In vivo RNAi experiments confirmed direct and indirect genetic effects of Th and PebIII on behavior and fitness, including maternal food provisioning and reproduction, and offspring development and survival. The direction of the effects consistently indicated a reciprocally altruistic function for Th and a reciprocally selfish function for PebIII. Further metabolic pathway analyses suggested roles for Th-restricted endogenous dopaminergic reward, PebIII-mediated chemical communication and a link to insulin signaling, juvenile hormone, and vitellogenin in parent-offspring coadaptation and social evolution.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science Advances