Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers Find ‘Key Ingredient’ That Regulates Termite Caste System

09.07.2010
A North Carolina State University entomologist has for the first time shown which specific chemicals are used by some termite queens to prevent other termites in the colony from becoming mommies like themselves.

In a study published online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, NC State’s Dr. Ed Vargo and colleagues from Japan and Switzerland show that a combination of two chemical compounds in a pheromone perfume emitted by egg-laying females known as secondary queens can inhibit other termites from developing into new queens. Moreover, the study shows that termite eggs also produce the caste-altering chemicals.

“This study opens up a whole new world into the mechanisms behind the ways colonies of termites and other social insects regulate themselves,” Vargo says. “With this long missing key ingredient now in hand, I expect we’ll see rapid progress in understanding how reproductive and nonreproductive termite castes develop.”

Secondary queens don’t prevent other termites in the colony from becoming mommies out of spite, Vargo says. It’s more a case of keeping the colony balanced with the correct numbers of caste members. Colonies need the proper proportion of workers who forage for food and take care of larvae, soldiers who defend the colony, and secondary queens who lay eggs to increase a colony’s numbers. The wrong balance could spell doom for the colony.

Termites molt frequently throughout their lives and can change castes depending on conditions in the colony. In the study, the scientists exposed different castes of termites that have the capacity to become secondary queens to both the actual pheromone perfume elicited from secondary queens and a synthetic version of the perfume. Both treatments prevented termites from becoming secondary queens.

Scientists have long believed that queen pheromones regulate caste development in social insects, but this finding is only the second such discovery in the past 50 years – when the term pheromone was coined by scientists. This is partly due, Vargo says, to scientists looking for the wrong types of chemicals.

“The pheromone – a combination of two chemicals called n-butyl-n-butyrate and 2-methyl-1-butanol – is a low-weight, volatile blend that acts directly on developing termites,” he says. That is in contrast to queen honey bees, for example, whose pheromone acts indirectly by regulating the queen-rearing behavior of worker bees.

NC State’s Department of Entomology is part of the university’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

- kulikowski -

“Identification of a pheromone regulating caste differentiation in termites”

Authors: Kenji Matasuura, Chihiro Himuro, Tomoyuki Yokoi and Yuuka Yamamoto, Okayama University; Edward L. Vargo, North Carolina State University; Laurent Keller, University of Lausanne

Published: The week of July 5, 2010, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Abstract: The hallmark of social insects is their caste system: reproduction is primarily monopolized by queens, whereas workers specialize in the other tasks required for colony growth and survival. Pheromones produced by reining queens have long been believed to be the prime factor inhibiting the differentiation of new reproductive individuals. However, there has been very little progress in the chemical identification of such inhibitory pheromones. Here we report the identification of a volatile inhibitory pheromone produced by female neotenics (secondary queens) that acts directly on target individuals to suppress the differentiation of new female neotenics and identify n-butyl-n-butyrate and 2-methyl-1-butanol as the active components of the inhibitory pheromone. An artificial pheromone blend consisting of these two compounds had a strong inhibitory effect similar to live neotenics. Surprisingly, the same two volatiles are also emitted by eggs, playing a role both as an attractant to workers and an inhibitor of reproductive differentiation. This dual production of an inhibitory pheromone by female reproductives and eggs probably reflects the recruitment of an attractant pheromone as an inhibitory pheromone and may provide a mechanism ensuring honest signaling of reproductive status with a tight coupling between fertility and inhibitory power. Identification of a volatile pheromone regulating caste differentiation in a termite provides insights into the functioning of social insect colonies and opens important avenues for elucidating the developmental pathways leading to reproductive and nonreproductive castes.

Dr. Ed Vargo | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ncsu.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

nachricht Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>