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The discovery of the supergene leads to new knowledge about fire ants

The discovery of the supergene leads to new knowledge about fire ants

Fire ant. Credit: UGA

A unique study conducted by entomologists at the University of Georgia led to the discovery of a distinctive supergen in fire ant colonies that determines whether young ant queens will leave their home colony to create their own colony or join one with multiple ladies

The researchers also found that ants are more aggressive towards queens that do not have the supergene, which causes the main workers in the colony to kill them. This critical discovery opens the door to new pest control methods that may be more effective in eradicating problematic colonies of fire ants.

“Learning how fire ants behave is very important input,”

; 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 due to a close genetic link. The study of these unique genes is important for understanding the potential causes of differences in the social structure of fire ants, in particular for species control and building on the existing knowledge base.

Researchers have focused on young queen fire ants embarking on mating flights. They compare the effect of the supergene on the two main types of social structures of ants: monogin, which is reproduction by queens that form a new nest, and pologyne, reproduction by queens that join an existing nest.

The discovery of a supergen leads to new knowledge about ants

Winged ants are called reproductive. Credit: UGA

Ross initially worked with colleagues in his lab to find a remarkable example of genetically encoded differences in social organization within the fire ant species Solenopsis invicta. The next step was to understand how these genetic differences lead to complex behavioral and physiological variations among ants from single uterine colonies versus colonies with multiple queens. Combining this knowledge helps scientists further understand the development patterns of the species, increasing alternatives to combat invasive populations.

Led by a pair of UGA entomology alumni, Joanie King, who won her master’s degree in 2017, and Samuel Arseno, who earned her doctorate in 2020, the team developed an experimental design that uses a collection of samples from two fire ant organs. Brain and ovarian tissues – and the full range of social chromosomal genotypes and social forms in this species of fire ants.

The innovative research includes various scientific methods, which leads to cooperation between tools and resources in many areas of the institution.

“UGA was a very conducive environment for this study,” said Brendan Hunt, an associate professor of entomology. “We received assistance in preparing RNA sequencing samples from Dr. Bob Schmitz’s laboratory in the genetic department, performed sequencing at the Core Genomics and Bioinformatics Core, and used computational resources from the Georgian Resource Center for Advanced Computing to analyze the data.”

This type of student-led project gives young researchers the chance to grow in a practical environment with mentoring and guidance from scientists with proven results in this field.

“The graduate students gained experience that helped them move on to the next stages of their careers,” Hunt said. “They both continue to study the genetics of ants.”

Entomologists have discovered a matriarchy of fire ants in Florida

More information:
Samuel W. Arseno et al., Simple inheritance, complex regulation: Polymorphism of a supergen-mediated fire ant, Molecular ecology (2020). DOI: 10.1111 / mec.15581

Provided by the University of Georgia

Quote: The discovery of the supergen leads to new knowledge about fire ants (2020, October 16), extracted on October 16, 2020 from https://phys.org/news/2020-10-supergene-discovery-knowledge-ants. html

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