Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Novel genes determine division of labor in insect societies

30.01.2014
Mainz biologists show in a scientific study how gene expression differs between castes in ants

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.


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

Dr. Barbara Feldmeyer and her colleagues at the JGU Institute of Zoology studied the question 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.

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).

Image:
http://www.uni-mainz.de/bilder_presse/10_zoologie_ameisen_t_longispinosus_koloni...
A small colony of the Temnothorax longispinosus ant species with two queens
©photo: Susanne Foitzik
Publication:
Barbara Feldmeyer, Daniel Elsner, Susanne Foitzik
Gene expression patterns associated with caste and reproductive status in ants:
worker-specific genes are more derived than queen-specific ones.
Molecular Ecology, January 2014
DOI: 10.1111/mec.12490
Further information:
Professor Susanne Foitzik
Institute of Zoology – Evolutionary Biology
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU)
D 55099 Mainz, GERMANY
phone +49 6131 39-27840
fax +49 6131 39-27850
e-mail: foitzik@uni-mainz.de
http://www.bio.uni-mainz.de/zoo/evobio/index_ENG.php
Weitere Informationen:
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/mec.12490/abstract
- Abstract ;
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/mec.12580/abstract
- “The importance of genomic novelty in social evolution“ ;
https://www.imb-mainz.de/research/initiatives/GeneRED/
- GeneRED

Petra Giegerich | idw
Further information:
http://www.uni-mainz.de
http://www.bio.uni-mainz.de/zoo/evobio/index_ENG.php

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Moth takes advantage of defensive compounds in Physalis fruits
26.08.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie

nachricht Designing ultrasound tools with Lego-like proteins
26.08.2016 | California Institute of Technology

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Streamlining accelerated computing for industry

PyFR code combines high accuracy with flexibility to resolve unsteady turbulence problems

Scientists and engineers striving to create the next machine-age marvel--whether it be a more aerodynamic rocket, a faster race car, or a higher-efficiency jet...

Im Focus: X-ray optics on a chip

Waveguides are widely used for filtering, confining, guiding, coupling or splitting beams of visible light. However, creating waveguides that could do the same for X-rays has posed tremendous challenges in fabrication, so they are still only in an early stage of development.

In the latest issue of Acta Crystallographica Section A: Foundations and Advances , Sarah Hoffmann-Urlaub and Tim Salditt report the fabrication and testing of...

Im Focus: Piggyback battery for microchips: TU Graz researchers develop new battery concept

Electrochemists at TU Graz have managed to use monocrystalline semiconductor silicon as an active storage electrode in lithium batteries. This enables an integrated power supply to be made for microchips with a rechargeable battery.

Small electrical gadgets, such as mobile phones, tablets or notebooks, are indispensable accompaniments of everyday life. Integrated circuits in the interiors...

Im Focus: UCI physicists confirm possible discovery of fifth force of nature

Light particle could be key to understanding dark matter in universe

Recent findings indicating the possible discovery of a previously unknown subatomic particle may be evidence of a fifth fundamental force of nature, according...

Im Focus: Wi-fi from lasers

White light from lasers demonstrates data speeds of up to 2 GB/s

A nanocrystalline material that rapidly makes white light out of blue light has been developed by KAUST researchers.

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

The energy transition is not possible without Geotechnics

25.08.2016 | Event News

New Ideas for the Shipping Industry

24.08.2016 | Event News

A week of excellence: 22 of the world’s best computer scientists and mathematicians in Heidelberg

12.08.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Symmetry crucial for building key biomaterial collagen in the lab

26.08.2016 | Health and Medicine

Volcanic eruption masked acceleration in sea level rise

26.08.2016 | Earth Sciences

Moth takes advantage of defensive compounds in Physalis fruits

26.08.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>