USF St. Petersburg campus Honors Program Theses (Undergraduate)

First Advisor

Thesis Director: D avid John, Ph.D. Lecturer, College of Arts and Sciences

Second Advisor

Thesis Committee Member: Thomas Smith, Ph.D. Honors Program Director and Associate Professor of Political Science, College of Arts and Sciences

Third Advisor

Thesis Committee Member: Debby Cassill, Ph.D. Associate Chairperson and Associate Professor, College of Arts and Sciences


University of South Florida St. Petersburg

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The emerging field of epigenetics seeks to study the interactions of the environment and other factors on gene expression in organisms. Epigenetic mechanisms involve modification to the DNA and/or surrounding structures, resulting in the activation or repression of gene expression. One epigenetic mechanism, DNA methylation, involves the addition of a methyl group to carbon 5 of cytosines in CpG dinucleotide regions in vertebrates and possibly other phyla. Vertebrate genomes tend to be globally methylated, whereas genes tend to be the target of methylation in insects. Genomic analyses of the order Hymenoptera revealed the evolutionary persistence of DNA methylation in social insects. Fully functioning DNA methylation systems have been discovered in several bee and ant species, including Solenopsis invicta. DNA methylation in insects may play a role in caste determination, as ant embryos are capable of following different developmental pathways. Social insects prove a promising model for understanding methylation in developmental regulation due to the presence of phenotypic plasticity and the potential for genomic imprinting. This study aims to determine whether differential methylation is present among different castes in the fire ant species, Solenopsis invicta. Preforming bisulfite treatment on selected genes derived from whole body DNA extraction could provide data on the presence of differential methylation among castes. Further investigation may reveal whether DNA methylation is the mechanism by which environmental cues affect the developmental trajectory of ant embryos determining their caste.


A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the University Honors Program University of South Florida St. Petersburg

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