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 Novel 'repair system' discovered in algae may yield new tools for biotechnology
29.07.2016 | Boyce Thompson Institute

nachricht Molecular troublemakers instead of antibiotics?
29.07.2016 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Self-assembling nano inks form conductive and transparent grids during imprint

Transparent electronics devices are present in today’s thin film displays, solar cells, and touchscreens. The future will bring flexible versions of such devices. Their production requires printable materials that are transparent and remain highly conductive even when deformed. Researchers at INM – Leibniz Institute for New Materials have combined a new self-assembling nano ink with an imprint process to create flexible conductive grids with a resolution below one micrometer.

To print the grids, an ink of gold nanowires is applied to a substrate. A structured stamp is pressed on the substrate and forces the ink into a pattern. “The...

Im Focus: The Glowing Brain

A new Fraunhofer MEVIS method conveys medical interrelationships quickly and intuitively with innovative visualization technology

On the monitor, a brain spins slowly and can be examined from every angle. Suddenly, some sections start glowing, first on the side and then the entire back of...

Im Focus: Newly discovered material property may lead to high temp superconductivity

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Ames Laboratory have discovered an unusual property of purple bronze that may point to new ways to achieve high temperature superconductivity.

While studying purple bronze, a molybdenum oxide, researchers discovered an unconventional charge density wave on its surface.

Im Focus: Mapping electromagnetic waveforms

Munich Physicists have developed a novel electron microscope that can visualize electromagnetic fields oscillating at frequencies of billions of cycles per second.

Temporally varying electromagnetic fields are the driving force behind the whole of electronics. Their polarities can change at mind-bogglingly fast rates, and...

Im Focus: Continental tug-of-war - until the rope snaps

Breakup of continents with two speed: Continents initially stretch very slowly along the future splitting zone, but then move apart very quickly before the onset of rupture. The final speed can be up to 20 times faster than in the first, slow extension phase.phases

Present-day continents were shaped hundreds of millions of years ago as the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart. Derived from Pangaea’s main fragments Gondwana...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Clash of Realities 2016: 7th Conference on the Art, Technology and Theory of Digital Games

29.07.2016 | Event News

GROWING IN CITIES - Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Urban Gardening

15.07.2016 | Event News

SIGGRAPH2016 Computer Graphics Interactive Techniques, 24-28 July, Anaheim, California

15.07.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Vortex laser offers hope for Moore's Law

29.07.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Novel 'repair system' discovered in algae may yield new tools for biotechnology

29.07.2016 | Life Sciences

Clash of Realities 2016: 7th Conference on the Art, Technology and Theory of Digital Games

29.07.2016 | Event News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>