Ants: Clues to Human Development
DNA of Harvester ants studied for queens vs. workers
The fate of most ant larvae - that is, whether an individual insect grows up to be a worker or a queen - depends largely on the quality and the amount of food they receive from the other ants in the colony. But in a few rare species, an ant’s future social “caste’’ rests solely within its genes. “Workers just work; they don’t produce offspring. Only the queen reproduces,’’ said Juergen Gadau, associate professor of biology in Arizona State University’s school of life sciences. “From an evolutionary standpoint, it is hard to understand how something can evolve that foregoes reproduction. At the core of their ‘society’ is the division of reproductive and non-reproductive individuals.’’
Gadau is studying these rare ant populations, focusing on Harvester ants, with the goal of identifying the individual genes responsible for producing either queens or workers. Ultimately, he hopes to use his findings to reveal which of those genes also are involved in the case of the other ants - those largely influenced by food - and how, for example, the differences in food are involved in turning on the worker or queen genes.
“We want to first understand the genetics, then see if the food issue prompts the same gene expression in the other ant population,’’ Gadau said. “Once I have the gene, then I can go back and see how it is involved in the regulatory network, and test whether the introduction of food changes the regulation of the genome in the same way.’’
Source = US News.com
General Manager - Staff Entomologist