Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Smell rules fire ants

16.11.2001


One gene controls whether a persistent pest serves one or many queens.


Revolting smell: scent may make fire ants kill impostor queens.
© USEPA



A protein that spots smell controls the power structure of fire ant colonies, Michael Krieger and Kenneth Ross of the University of Georgia, Athens, have discovered1. One form of the protein leads to nests with several queens living in harmony. The other leaves only one ruler.

Fire ants’ social life is of more than academic interest. The species (Solenopsis invicta) has spread from its South American homeland to become a serious pest in the Southern United States.


The ants drive out native insects and inflict painful bites on humans and livestock, doing damage worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Earlier this year fire ants appeared in Australia.

Multiple-queen colonies are a particular menace: nests can reach ten times the density of single-queen colonies in a given area.

Worker ants in multi-monarch colonies execute queens bearing the wrong genetic badge. Tapping into the signals that control this - with synthetic scents, for example - might allow us to trigger self-destructive infighting among the ants, speculates Laurent Keller, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

"Interfering with the process by which fire ants regulate queen number could wreak havoc in colonies," agrees Gene Robinson, who studies honey-bee genetics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Causing a stink

Krieger and Ross have identified Gp-9, the gene that encodes the odour-detecting protein. Each ant has two copies of Gp-9, which can take one of two forms, known as B and b. Nests of BB ants contain one queen, those of Bb ants several; the bb form is lethal. Workers with Bb genes kill BB queens and workers in BB nests execute all queens except their sole ruler.

The identification of the protein is "a very important finding", says Keller. "We knew that a single gene was responsible for the two social forms, but we didn’t know if the protein that Gp-9 makes was important. This shows that it really does underlie the two forms - and it’s exactly the type of gene that you’d predict it to be."

Gp-9 controls queen number in three other ant species closely related to fire ants, Krieger and Ross have also found. This suggests that the genetic control originated several million years ago, and has persisted as a single ancestral species evolved and split into several. Krieger suspects that Gp-9 may be at work in many more species.

The leaders of multi-queen nests are less regal than queens that rule alone. They are smaller, and cannot establish new colonies unaided. Krieger thinks that workers tolerate the diminutive despots because they do not recognize them as royals.

References

  1. Krieger, M. J. B. & Ross, K. G. Identification of a major gene regulating complex social behaviour. Science in the press (2001).


  2. JOHN WHITFIELD | © Nature News Service
    Further information:
    http://www.nature.com/nsu/011122/011122-1.html

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Toward a 'smart' patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed
18.01.2017 | American Chemical Society

nachricht 127 at one blow...
18.01.2017 | Stiftung Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig, Leibniz-Institut für Biodiversität der Tiere

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A big nano boost for solar cells

18.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Glass's off-kilter harmonies

18.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Toward a 'smart' patch that automatically delivers insulin when needed

18.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>