Friday, 27 August 2010

Genomes of Two Separate Ant Species Sequenced

August 27th, 2010

An international collaboration of scientists has just released the results of a new investigation, which managed to sequence the full genomes of two socially-divergent ant species. The finding can be used to derive more data on the role of epigenetics in aging and behavior.

Generally, the concept of epigenetics is used to refer to the field of genetic sciences which deals with studying the inherited changes that a body exhibits in its appearance (phenotype) and gene expression.

Studying this concept is one of the main goal in biology today, but two researchers at the Arizona State University (ASU) are now taking a more unconventional approach to understanding its role/

They are part of a team that is using the fully-sequenced genome of ants from the species Camponotus floridanus and Harpegnathos saltator to understand epigenetics.

The group also contains researchers from research institutions and organizations in New York, China, Pennsylvania, and Denmark.

The ASU crew is made up of School of Life Sciences assistant professor Jurgen Liebig and postdoctoral fellow Navdeep Mutti, who works in the former's lab.

“With the genome sequences and gene expression analyses of our two ant species, we show the potential of ants as a new system to study the epigenetic foundations of aging and developmental, reproductive and behavioral plasticity,” explains Liebig.

He is also a researcher at the ASU Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity, in the university's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The international research effort was led by Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Danny Reinberg, who is a professor of biochemistry at New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center.

Details of the work were published in the August 27 issue of the esteemed journal Science.

“Ants are extremely social creatures and their ability to survive depends on their community in a very similar way to humans. Whether they are workers, soldiers or queens, ants seem to be a perfect fit to study whether epigenetics influences behavior and aging,” explains Reinber.

He also holds an appointment as a member of the NYU Cancer Institute. “In studying the genomes of these two ants, we were fascinated by the different behaviors and different roles that the worker ants develop,” he adds.

“Since every ant in the colony starts with the same genetic information, the different neuronal connections that specify the behavior appropriate for each social rank, must be controlled by epigenetic mechanisms,” the researcher explains further.

“The findings could potentially help us learn more about the effect of epigenetics on brain function in humans,” Reinber concludes.

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