Researchers explore the genetic basis of social behavior in ants

Jul 18, 2008

Understanding how interactions between genes and the environment influence social behavior is a fundamental research goal. In a new study, researchers at the University of Lausanne and the University of Georgia have shed light on the numbers and types of genes that may control social organization in fire ant colonies.

Published July 18th in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics, this work suggests that a relatively small number of genes, many of which are predicted to play a role in chemical communication, determine social organization. This research also increases our understanding of how the social environment can indirectly influence the expression of socially relevant traits.

The fire ant Solenopsis invicta displays natural variation in the number of queens per colony. While the colony-level phenotype results from the aggregation of individuals' behavior, it seems to be regulated by one genomic region marked by the gene Gp-9. This genetic factor also determines whether workers tolerate a single fertile queen (monogene social form) or multiple queens (polygene social form) in their colony.

The current study found that 39 genes are differentially expressed between workers with different Gp-9 genotypes, including several genes likely to regulate chemical signaling and response. The chemical communication mediated by these gene products is essential to the regulation of colony queen number and social organization.

The study also identified 91 genes that are indirectly influenced by the social environment, including Gp-9 genotypes of nest mates, a finding that demonstrates how specific social environments can modulate individual gene expression in group members. This research hints at the genetic complexities likely to be found in other social animals, and represents an important step in the detailed genetic analysis of social behavior.

Citation: Wang J, Ross KG, Keller L (2008) Genome-Wide Expression Patterns and the Genetic Architecture of a Fundamental Social Trait. PLoS Genet 4(7): e1000127. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000127

Source: Public Library of Science

Explore further: Bumblebee genomes give insights into threats to pollinators

Related Stories

Classroom acoustics for architects

10 hours ago

The Acoustical Society of America (ASA) has published a free online booklet for architects to aid in the application of ANSI/ASA S12.60-2010/Part 1-American National Standard Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, ...

Recommended for you

York's anti-malarial plant given Chinese approval

6 hours ago

A new hybrid plant used in anti-malarial drug production, developed by scientists at the University of York's Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP), is now registered as a new variety in China.

The appeal of being anti-GMO

11 hours ago

A team of Belgian philosophers and plant biotechnologists have turned to cognitive science to explain why opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has become so widespread, despite positive contributions ...

Micro fingers for arranging single cells

11 hours ago

Functional analysis of a cell, which is the fundamental unit of life, is important for gaining new insights into medical and pharmaceutical fields. For efficiently studying cell functions, it is essential ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.