Saturday, 19 January 2013

New 'Social' Chromosome Discovered in the Red Fire Ant

Jan. 16, 2013 — Researchers have discovered a social chromosome in the highly invasive fire ant that helps to explain why some colonies allow for more than one queen ant, and could offer new solutions for dealing with this pest.

The red fire ants live in two different types of colonies: some colonies strictly have a single queen while other colonies contain hundreds of queens.

Publishing in the journal Nature on January 16, scientists have discovered that this difference in social organisation is determined by a chromosome that carries one of two variants of a 'supergene' containing more than 600 genes.

The two variants, B and b, differ in structure but have evolved similarly to the X and Y chromosomes that determine the sex of humans. If the worker fire ants in a colony carry exclusively the B variant, they will accept a single BB queen, but a colony that includes worker fire ants with the b variant will accept multiple Bb queens. The scientists analysed the genomes of more than 500 red fire ants to understand this phenomenon.

"This was a very surprising discovery -- similar differences in chromosomal structure are linked to wing patterns in butterflies and to cancer in humans but this is the first supergene ever identified that determines social behaviour," explains co-author Dr Yannick Wurm, from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

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