Background: Taxa that harbor natural phenotypic variation are ideal for ecological genomic approaches aimed at understanding how the interplay between genetic and environmental factors can lead to the evolution of complex traits. Lasioglossum albipes is a polymorphic halictid bee that expresses variation in social behavior among populations, and common-garden experiments have suggested that this variation is likely to have a genetic component.
Results: We present the L. albipes genome assembly to characterize the genetic and ecological factors associated with the evolution of social behavior. The de novo assembly is comparable to other published social insect genomes, with an N50 scaffold length of 602 kb. Gene families unique to L. albipes are associated with integrin-mediated signaling and DNA-binding domains, and several appear to be expanded in this species, including the glutathione-s-transferases and the inositol monophosphatases. L. albipes has an intact DNA methylation system, and in silico analyses suggest that methylation occurs primarily in exons. Comparisons to other insect genomes indicate that genes associated with metabolism and nucleotide binding undergo accelerated evolution in the halictid lineage. Whole-genome resequencing data from one solitary and one social L. albipes female identify six genes that appear to be rapidly diverging between social forms, including a putative odorant receptor and a cuticular protein.
Conclusions: L. albipes represents a novel genetic model system for understanding the evolution of social behavior. It represents the first published genome sequence of a primitively social insect, thereby facilitating comparative genomic studies across the Hymenoptera as a whole.