NYU School of Medicine researcher Dr. Danny Reinberg was awarded a Howard Hughes Institute of Medicine Collaborative Innovation Award for new research on ant epigenetics- helping to unravel the impact lifestyle and environment have on genes. The research will investigate what ants can teach us about aging and behavior. Results of the ant study may translate to other species including humans, using gene regulation in ants as a model for aging.
"Ants live exceptionally long lives, they are social creatures, and they engage in stereotypical behaviors that befit their station in life, whether it be worker ant, soldier or queen," said Dr. Reinberg, professor of Biochemistry at NYU School of Medicine's Smilow Research Center. "Ants seem to be a perfect fit for study about whether epigenetics influences behavior and aging."
According to Dr. Reinberg, ants can assume either reproductive or non-reproductive roles in their colonies. The different reproductive roles also have a strong impact on the longevity of queens and workers. Released from the everyday activity of the colony and focused only on reproductive tasks, queens live up to 10 times longer than worker ants. As a consequence of differential aging and different behaviors, some regions of the queen's brain, such as the visual system, are not as well developed as those of the workers. Even though these two types of ants begin life remarkably similar, their individual experiences and differences in aging sculpt their brains and behaviors in vastly different ways. Reinberg hopes that it will be easier to pinpoint the changes in gene expression that drive the changes in adaptation to specific social roles in the ant community.
"I truly believe that this project will open the door for my next 20 years of science," said Dr. Reinberg, who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher at NYU and lead investigator for the award. Dr. Reinberg and his collaborators, Dr. Shelley L. Berger of The
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NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine