Curr Biol. 2020 Aug 20;S0960-9822(20)31158-1. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.08.004.
Bénédicte Billard 1, Paul Vigne 1, Christian Braendle 2
1Université Côte d’Azur, CNRS, Inserm, IBV, Nice, France.
2Université Côte d’Azur, CNRS, Inserm, IBV, Nice, France. Electronic address: email@example.com.
Environmental signals often control central life history decisions, including the choice between reproduction and somatic maintenance. Such adaptive developmental plasticity occurs in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, where environmental cues govern whether larvae will develop directly into reproducing adults or arrest their development to become stress-resistant dauer larvae. Here, we identified a natural variant underlying enhanced sensitivity to dauer-inducing cues in C. elegans: a 92-bp deletion in the cis-regulatory region of the gene eak-3. This deletion reduces synthesis or activity of the steroid hormone dafachronic acid (DA), thereby increasing environmental sensitivity for dauer induction. Consistent with known pleiotropic roles of DA, this eak-3 variant significantly slows down reproductive growth. We experimentally show that, although the eak-3 deletion can provide a fitness advantage through facilitated dauer production in stressful environments, this allele becomes rapidly outcompeted in favorable environments. The identified eak-3 variant therefore reveals a trade-off in how hormonal responses influence both the pace of developmental timing and the way in which environmental sensitivity controls adaptive plasticity. Together, our results show how a single mutational event altering hormonal signaling can lead to the emergence of a complex life history trade-off.