Findings reported this week reveal how an evolutionary innovation involving the sharing of genes between two ant species has given rise to a deep-seated dependency between them for the survival of both species populations. The new work illustrates how genetic exchange through interbreeding between two species can give rise to a system of interdependence at a high level of biological organization--in this case, the production of worker ants for both species.
Millions of years before the first modern humans evolved, ants were practicing many of the social innovations we consider to be our own: division of labor, agriculture, and even slavery. Indeed, these traits have been taken to their extreme in many ant species, such as the case of slavemaker ants, which have become so specialized for raiding food from the colonies of other ants that they can no longer feed themselves or raise their younger siblings. Recent work on ants suggests that we may need to add genetic engineering to the list of innovations ants have evolved to employ. In two species of harvester ants, populations have been discovered in which queens mate with males of another species to produce genetically novel hybrid workers. In a new study, Dr. Sara Helms Cahan and colleagues demonstrate that both of the species involved have effectively given up the ability to produce pure-species workers in favor of the hybrids, thereby becoming completely dependent on one another for survival.
Female ants are generally found in two forms: reproductive queens and sterile workers. The role, or caste, of an individual is determined for life at a certain stage in her development. In virtually all ant species, it is the environment in which a female is raised, rather than a genetic predisposition, that determines which caste she will adopt. However, in two harvester ant populations in southern New Mexico, queens and workers from the same colonies are genetically very different; in both species at the site, only the queens are genetically derived from a pure species-specific lineage, whereas all the workers are hybrids that possess a combination of genes from the two species in a single individual. It is not currently known whether the ants benefit from having hybrids do the work, but, as is evident from the researchers own attempts at selective breeding and genetic engineering, combining genomes is an easy way to produce novel characteristics that may be highly advantageous for growth, environmental tolerance, or disease resistance. Regardless of the specific advantages, however, it is clear that these ants have committed themselves to the hybrid workforce strategy. When the researchers prevented queens from mating with males of the other species, very few succeeded in making any workers at all, a handicap that would lead to certain population failure in the field. The new findings suggest that specialization involving reliance on interspecific hybrid workers has left these species unable to survive independently of one another.
Heidi Hardman | EurekAlert!
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Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
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Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.
MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...
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Scientists from the MPI for Chemical Energy Conversion report in the first issue of the new journal JOULE.
Cell Press has just released the first issue of Joule, a new journal dedicated to sustainable energy research. In this issue James Birrell, Olaf Rüdiger,...
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