Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Novel genes determine division of labor in insect societies

Date:
January 29, 2014
Source:
Universität Mainz
Summary:
Novel or highly modified genes play a major role in the development of the different castes within ant colonies. Evolutionary biologists came to this conclusion in a recent gene expression study by looking at the question of how the different female castes arise. An ant colony generally consists of a queen and the workers. Moreover, workers can differ depending on the task they perform, such as brood care, foraging, or nest defense.

A small colony of the Temnothorax longispinosus ant species with two queens.
Credit: Photo/©: Susanne Foitzik, JGU

Novel or highly modified genes play a major role in the development of the different castes within ant colonies. Evolutionary biologists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) came to this conclusion in a recent gene expression study. Dr. Barbara Feldmeyer and her colleagues at the JGU Institute of Zoology studied the question how the different female castes arise.

Related Articles


An ant colony generally consists of a queen and the workers. Moreover, workers can differ depending on the task they perform, such as brood care, foraging, or nest defense. This behavioral specialization may be accompanied by morphological and physiological differences. Queens, solely responsible for reproduction, can live up to 30 years while workers have life spans ranging from a few months to several years. In some species there are also soldier ants, which can weigh up to 100 times more than their worker sisters who take care of the brood.

Interestingly, the divergent phenotypic traits of queens and workers develop from the same genetic background; the different phenotypic trajectories are determined by the food larvae receive during development. Usually the queen is the sole reproductive individual in a nest but if she dies or is removed, some brood-care workers will develop their ovaries and begin to reproduce. It was this phenomenon that the Mainz scientists exploited in order to induce fertility in brood-care workers of the Temnothorax longispinosus ant species. This allowed the comparison of these fertile workers with infertile brood-carers, foragers, and the queens to determine the expression of genes causing the enormous variations in behavior, fertility, and life span.

"We have here the ideal model system to study polyphenism, which describes the situation in which one and the same genotype gives rise to phenotypes that differ in terms of individual morphology, behavior, and life history," said Dr. Barbara Feldmeyer. Each sample used for RNA sequencing encompassed up to 100 million reads, i.e., short sequence sections of about 100 base pairs. The largest differences in gene expression were found between the queen and the worker castes, while the smallest differences were determined between the infertile brood carers and the foragers. The fertile brood care workers occupy an intermediate position between the queen and the sterile workers.

The ant queens expressed many caste-specific genes whose functions were known from comparisons with other species. This is not the case for the workers in which about half of the characteristic genes were found to be of unknown function. "Either these worker genes have undergone major modifications or they are novel genes," explained Feldmeyer. The fact that queens express more genes known from solitary hymenopterans and other insects fits to the evolution of social insects with workers being the derived state.

"This study of the differences in gene expression among ant castes is characteristic of the enormous advances that are currently being made in the field of biology," explained Professor Susanne Foitzik, head of the Evolutionary Biology work group at Mainz University. RNA sequencing is a technique that enables scientists to gain in-depth molecular information even for organisms that are not among the standard biological model organisms, such as the fruit fly Drosophila. "We can now also look at species known for their complexity in social behavior. In addition, by studying ants we can gain insights into the genes that are responsible for the unusually long life and fertility in insect queens," added Foitzik. The work group plans to continue its research into this area under the aegis of the new GeneRED research unit of the Faculty of Biology and the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Universität Mainz. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. B. Feldmeyer, D. Elsner, S. Foitzik. Gene expression patterns associated with caste and reproductive status in ants: worker-specific genes are more derived than queen-specific ones. Molecular Ecology, 2014; 23 (1): 151 DOI: 10.1111/mec.12490

Cite This Page:

Universität Mainz. "Novel genes determine division of labor in insect societies." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140129164937.htm>.
Universität Mainz. (2014, January 29). Novel genes determine division of labor in insect societies. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140129164937.htm
Universität Mainz. "Novel genes determine division of labor in insect societies." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140129164937.htm (accessed April 20, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, April 20, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deepwater And Dolphins: The Oil Spill's Impact 5 Years On

Deepwater And Dolphins: The Oil Spill's Impact 5 Years On

Newsy (Apr. 20, 2015) — Five years on, the possible environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill includes a sustained die-off of bottlenose dolphins, among others. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Five Years Later, the BP Oil Spill Is Still Taking Its Toll

Five Years Later, the BP Oil Spill Is Still Taking Its Toll

AFP (Apr. 20, 2015) — On April 20, 2010, an explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico started the biggest oil spill in US history. BP recently reported the Gulf is recovering well, but scientists paint a different picture. Duration: 02:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thai Customs Seize African Elephant Tusks Worth $6 Mn

Thai Customs Seize African Elephant Tusks Worth $6 Mn

AFP (Apr. 20, 2015) — Thai customs seize four tonnes of African elephant ivory worth $6 million at a Bangkok port in a container labelled as beans. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Un-Bee-Lievable: Bees on the Loose After Washington Truck Crash

Un-Bee-Lievable: Bees on the Loose After Washington Truck Crash

Reuters - US Online Video (Apr. 17, 2015) — A truck carrying honey bees overturns near Lynnwood, Washington, spreading boxes of live bees across the highway. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins