Scientists sequence ant genomes for the first time

Scientists sequence ant genomes for the first time

"Ants are extremely social creatures and their ability to survive depends on their community in a very similar way to humans," said research project leader Danny Reinberg, a professor of biochemistry at New York University Langone.

"Whether they are workers, soldiers or queens, ants seem to be a perfect fit to study whether epigenetics influences behaviour and ageing."Epigenetics is the study of how genes are activated or deactivated in response to changes in conditions rather than changes to DNA sequences, and helps determine inherited changes in an organism's traits or gene expression.

NYU Langone Medical Center scientists collaborated with colleagues in Pennsylvania, Arizona and China starting in 2008 to study the epigenetic differences between Jerdon's jumping ant and the Florida carpenter ant to link them to processes in other animals, including humans.

After the project was completed, ants became the second family of social insects whose genome was sequenced, after the honey bee.The study, published in the journal Science, focused on the role of epigenetics on longevity in ant colonies where the queens can live up to 10 times longer -- several years -- than worker ants, whose lifespan ranges between three weeks and a year.

In comparing the Jerdon's jumping ant to the Florida carpenter ant, a destructive pest in the southeastern United States, the scientists found that about 20 per cent of their genes are unique, while about 33 per cent are shared with humans.

"In studying the genomes of these two ants, we were fascinated by the different behaviours and different roles that the worker ants develop," said Reinberg.
"Since every ant in the colony starts with the same genetic information, the different neuronal connections that specify the behaviour appropriate for each social rank must be controlled by epigenetic mechanisms," he said.

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