Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

When ants attack: Researchers recreate chemicals that trigger aggression in Argentine ants

28.10.2009
Experiments led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have demonstrated that normally friendly ants can turn against each other by exploiting the chemical cues they use to distinguish colony-mates from rivals.

The new study, to be published Wednesday, Oct. 28, in the open-access journal BMC Biology, sheds light on the factors influencing the social behavior of the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, and provides hope for a new tactic in controlling the spread of this invasive species.

The research was conducted on the highly invasive Argentine ant, but the researchers note that the findings are likely relevant to other types of insects that rely upon chemical signals to identify each other.

"Almost all living organisms use chemical recognition cues to some degree, but it is particularly common among ants and other insects," said evolutionary biologist Neil Tsutsui, UC Berkeley associate professor of environmental science, policy and management and the study's principal investigator. "Surprisingly, it wasn't until this work that the specific chemicals used by Argentine ants to identify each other were isolated and tested."

Native to South America, the Argentine ant has taken hold in numerous countries worldwide, including Australia, Japan and the United States. In California, the ants are pervasive, pushing out native ant species and wreaking ecological havoc along the way. The Argentine ant has been blamed for exacerbating problems with some agricultural crops in the state, and for the decline of the coast horned lizard, which feeds exclusively upon the native ant species decimated by the invader.

In their native habitat, Argentine ants use their aggression to engage in inter-colony warfare with each other as they compete for resources, a behavioral trait that biologists credit for keeping the ants' numbers in check. Colonies tend to be small, typically measuring a few meters to a couple of hundred meters wide.

Biologists say that part of what makes the Argentine ants such successful invaders is that outside their home turf in South America, the fighting among them largely stops, allowing Argentine ant colonies from different regions to band together into a formidable group. Previous research conducted by Tsutsui and others provided evidence that the reason behind this relatively peaceful co-existence is the ants' genetic similarity, suggesting that they are part of the same, vast family. This lack of diversity falls in line with the theory that the invasive ants descended from a few individuals introduced to the new region.

"The striking thing about these Argentine ants in introduced ranges is that – with few exceptions – they are essentially functioning as a single, geographically huge supercolony," said Tsutsui. "If you take ants from San Diego and put them next to those from San Francisco, they'll act like they've known each other all their lives. They are part of a massive supercolony that extends hundreds of miles, nearly the entire length of California."

The UC Berkeley researchers worked with study co-authors Robert Sulc and Kenneth Shea from UC Irvine to narrow down and synthesize seven chemical molecules that trigger aggressive behavior among the Argentine ants. They also used two "control" chemicals not linked to fighting behavior. The "enemy" compounds were similar in that they were all long chains of hydrocarbons with one to three methyl groups attached.

Researchers then coated individual worker ants from the same colony with the purified substance. The researchers matched each of the chemically disguised ants with 10 untreated ants, one by one for five minutes each, in a petri dish.

"The 'enemy' chemicals generated significantly greater instances of flared mandibles, biting and other attacking behavior than did the control chemicals," said study co-lead author Ellen van Wilgenburg, a post-doctoral researcher in Tsutsui's lab at UC Berkeley. "We also saw higher levels of aggression when we increased the concentration of the chemicals and when we combined some of the chemicals together."

Despite this finding, Tsutsui cautions that significant barriers must be overcome before a pest-control substance based upon these chemicals is ready for the market. "We are still in the process of understanding how these chemicals control social behaviors in ants," he said. "These are custom chemicals that are very costly to synthesize at this stage. We are still a long way off from having large enough quantities to deploy in the field, or even knowing if these chemicals can control populations in the field."

The other co-lead author of the study is Miriam Brandt, a former post-doctoral researcher from Tsutsui's lab.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the California Structural Pest Control Board, the Defining Wisdom Program of the University of Chicago and the National Science Foundation helped support this research.

Sarah Yang | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.berkeley.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Complementing conventional antibiotics
24.05.2018 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Building a brain, cell by cell: Researchers make a mini neuron network (of two)
23.05.2018 | Institute of Industrial Science, The University of Tokyo

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

Im Focus: Dozens of binaries from Milky Way's globular clusters could be detectable by LISA

Next-generation gravitational wave detector in space will complement LIGO on Earth

The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Could a particle accelerator using laser-driven implosion become a reality?

24.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Hot cars can hit deadly temperatures in as little as one hour

24.05.2018 | Health and Medicine

Complementing conventional antibiotics

24.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>