A unique study by entomologists at the University of Georgia has led to the discovery of a characteristic supergene in fire ant colonies that determines whether young queen ants leave their colony to create their own new colony or join one of several queens.
The researchers also found that the ants were more aggressive towards queens that did not have a supergene, as a result of which they were killed by the main workers of the colonies. This critical finding opens the door to new pest control methods that may be more effective in eradicating problem colonies of fire ants.
“Learning how fire ants behave is very important background information,”; said Ken Ross, a professor of entomology at UGA. “This information is key to helping us manage pest populations and predict what differences may occur in their environment.”
A supergene is a collection of neighboring genes located on a chromosome that are inherited together through a close genetic link. The study of these unique genes is important to understand the potential causes of differences in the social structure of fire ants, in particular to control species and build on existing knowledge base.
Researchers have focused on young royal fire ants that go on mating flights. They compared the effect of the supergene on two main types of social structures of fire ants: monogine is reproduction from queens that form a new nest, and pologin is reproduction from queens that join an existing nest.
Ross first worked with colleagues in his lab to find a great example of genetically encoded differences in social organization in the fire ant species Solenopsis invicta. The next step was to understand how these genetic differences lead to complex behavioral and physiological changes in ants from single uterine colonies versus multi-uterine colonies. The combination of this knowledge helps scientists to further understand the patterns of development of this species, increasing the alternatives to combat invasive populations.
Under the guidance of a pair of UGA entomology graduates, Joanie King, who received her master’s degree in 2017, and Samuel Arseno, who received her doctorate in 2020, the team developed an experimental design using a collection of samples of two fire ant organs – brain tissue and tissues – and the full range of genotypes of social chromosomes and social forms in this species of fire ants.
Innovative research included various scientific methods, which led to the cooperation of tools and resources in many areas of the institution.
“UGA was a very conducive environment for this study,” said Brendan Hunt, an associate professor in entomology. “We assisted in the preparation of samples for RNA sequencing in Dr. Bob Schmitz’s laboratory in the genetic department, performed sequencing in Georgia Genomics and Bioinformatics, and used computing resources from the Georgian Advanced Computing Resource Center to analyze the data.”
These types of student projects give young researchers the opportunity to grow in a practical environment with the guidance and guidance of researchers with experienced services in the field.
“The graduate students gained experience that helped them move on to the next stages of their careers,” Hunt said. “Both continued to study the genetics of ants.”
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Samuel W. Arseno et al., Simple inheritance, complex regulation: Supergene-mediated polymorphism of the queen of fire ants Molecular ecology (2020). DOI: 10.1111 / mec.15581
Provided by the University of Georgia
Citation: Discovery of supergen leads to new knowledge about fire ants (2020, October 16) obtained on October 16, 2020 from https://phys.org/news/2020-10-supergene-discovery-knowledge-ants.html
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