Termite caste differentiation is a multifaceted process that is under the control of a range of intrinsic and extrinsic factors, and it has challenged researchers for decades. Advances in molecular, genomic, and integrative or “systems” biology in the past decade have greatly facilitated efforts to begin to understand this process. Using molecular tools, it is now possible to investigate caste differentiation through hypothesis-driven mechanistic studies at the sub- and super-organismal levels. This chapter provides examples of approaches to study the molecular bases of caste differentiation; it describes molecular biology approaches for gene and protein discovery and characterization, relevant genes and proteins that have been identified, and a contextual foundation on which genome sequencing can now be considered. Once whole genome sequences of termites are available it will be possible to conduct highly detailed comparative, integrative, functional and translational genomics studies that define: (1) the complex milieu of intrinsic and extrinsic factors that interact to drive caste differentiation (including genetic and environmental factors), (2) how genes used in solitary life have been co-opted for social functions, and (3) social evolution in termites and their ancestors.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.