Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Royal corruption is rife in the ant world

12.03.2008
Far from being a model of social co-operation, the ant world is riddled with cheating and corruption – and it goes all the way to the top, according to scientists from the Universities of Leeds and Copenhagen.

Ants have always been thought to work together for the benefit of the colony rather than for individual gain. But Dr Bill Hughes from Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences has found evidence to shatter this illusion.

With Professor Jacobus Boomsma from the University of Copenhagen, he’s discovered that certain ants are able to cheat the system, ensuring their offspring become reproductive queens rather than sterile workers.

“The accepted theory was that queens were produced solely by nurture: certain larvae were fed certain foods to prompt their development into queens and all larvae could have that opportunity,” explains Dr Hughes. “But we carried out DNA fingerprinting on five colonies of leaf-cutting ants and discovered that the offspring of some fathers are more likely to become queens than others. These ants have a ‘royal’ gene or genes, giving them an unfair advantage and enabling them to cheat many of their altruistic sisters out of their chance to become a queen themselves.”

But what intrigued the scientists was that these ‘royal’ genetic lines were always rare in each colony.

Says Dr Hughes: “The most likely explanation has to be that the ants are deliberately taking steps to avoid detection. If there were too many of one genetic line developing into queens in a single colony, the other ants would notice and might take action against them. So we think the males with these royal genes have evolved to somehow spread their offspring around more colonies and so escape detection. The rarity of the royal lines is actually an evolutionary strategy by the cheats to escape suppression by the altruistic masses that they exploit.”

A few times each year, ant colonies produce males and new queens which fly off from their colonies to meet and mate. The males die shortly after mating and the females go on to found new colonies. The researchers are keen to study this process, to determine if their hypothesis is correct and the mating strategy of males with royal genes ensures their rarity, to keep their advantages undetected by their ‘commoner’ counterparts.

However, the scientists’ discovery does prove that, although social insect colonies are often cited as proof that societies can be based on egalitarianism and cooperation, they are not quite as utopian as they appear.

“When studying social insects like ants and bees, it’s often the cooperative aspect of their society that first stands out,” says Dr Hughes. “However, when you look more deeply, you can see there is conflict and cheating – and obviously human society is also a prime example of this. It was thought that ants were an exception, but our genetic analysis has shown that their society is also rife with corruption – and royal corruption at that!”

The research was funded by the Carlsberg Foundation and carried out in collaboration with Professor Jacobus Boomsma, Director of the Centre for Social Evolution at the University of Copenhagen. It is published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

Jo Kelly | alfa
Further information:
http://www.leeds.ac.uk/media/press_releases/index.htm

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Scientists on the road to discovering impact of urban road dust
18.01.2018 | University of Alberta

nachricht Gran Chaco: Biodiversity at High Risk
17.01.2018 | Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Let the good tubes roll

19.01.2018 | Materials Sciences

How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism

19.01.2018 | Health and Medicine

Meteoritic stardust unlocks timing of supernova dust formation

19.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>