Thursday, September 13, 2018

Ants Prove To Be Crucial In Tracing the Evolution of Social Insects

        One may often wonder what has led specific organisms to give up a solitary existence and instead opt to a communal lifestyle, for a colonial way of life often comes with a system of division between reproducers and laborers. Evolutionary Biologist, Dr. Romain Libbrecht, and his team of researchers from Rockefeller University in New York City have decided to investigate the essential question as to what dictates one's role within society and where there are distinct differences between a queen or laborer in eusocial species.

       To their surprise, the research team soon discovered that a single gene called insulin-like peptide 2 (ILP2) was responsible for this differentiation after studying seven different ant species. This gene is most likely activated by increased nutrient levels and once activated it is responsible for "stimulat[ing] the ovaries and trigger[ing] reproduction" (1). In order to further explore what mechanisms fuel the division of labor in these types of societies, the researchers took a closer look at the ant species, Ooceraea biroi. This species was chosen for two main reasons. First off, no queens exist simply female workers. However, the female workers are allowed to reproduce and do so through parthenogenesis, which is the process of making an exact copy of one's self.  Secondly, this species has a very specific cycle when it comes to balancing work and reproduction. An eighteen-day period is allotted to laying eggs followed by a sixteen-day period which is used for collecting food and feeding the newborn larva.

      The researchers purposely broke the cycle by injecting synthesized ILP2 into the ants causing them to lay eggs during the period in which they were supposed to be caring for the young. In doing so, the researchers are able to witness a change in the ant's behavior and physiology. The organism attempts to accommodate for larva during the egg-laying period and will ultimately end the reproduction faster in order to move onto caring for the newborns.

After reading this article, I have gained a newfound knowledge in what determines an insect's role within their colony. Since ILP2 is more active in highly nourished individuals it supports the logic as to why the queen or reproducers of the colony are often larger and get the first priority when it comes maintaining a sufficient nutrients supply for their role is crucial to the survival of the entire colony. To extend this research further I certainly feel as if the effect of this gene in humans should be investigated for it may prove useful at fertility doctors.


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