Navigation Links
Dopamine turns worker ants into warrior queens

The ritualized fighting behavior of one ant species is linked to increases in dopamine levels that trigger dramatic physical changes in the ants without affecting their DNA, according to research from North Carolina State University, Arizona State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The researchers studied Indian jumping ants (Harpegnathos saltator), which can undergo significant changes in physiology without any related changes to their DNA. Instead, the changes depend on which genes are turned on or off which in turn is determined by social and environmental factors. This has made them a model organism for epigenetics researchers.

When an H. saltator colony's queen dies, the female workers engage in ritual fights to establish dominance. While these battles can be fierce, they rarely result in physical injury to the workers. Ultimately, a group of approximately 12 workers will establish dominance and become a cadre of worker queens or "gamergates." Video of the ritualized fighting behavior can be seen at

The gamergates look like ordinary workers, but undergo extreme internal changes: their brains shrink by 25 percent; their ovaries expand to fill their abdomens; and their life expectancy jumps from about six months to several years or more.

"We wanted to know what's responsible for these physical changes," says Dr. Clint Penick, lead author of a paper describing the work and a postdoctoral researcher at NC State. "The answer appears to be dopamine. We found that gamergates have dopamine levels two to three times higher than other workers."

To understand what was happening, the researchers took a subset of workers from a colony (Colony A) and separated them from their gamergates. These workers effectively formed their own colony (Colony B) and began fighting to establish dominance.

When some of the workers in Colony B began to get the upper hand, Penick removed them from the colony. He found that these dominant ants had already begun to produce elevated levels of dopamine more than other workers, but still less than full-fledged gamergates.

Penick then placed these dominant workers back into Colony A. The regular Colony A workers recognized the changes in the dominant workers and exhibited "policing" behavior, holding down the dominant ants so that they couldn't move. Within 24 hours, the dopamine levels in the dominant workers had dropped back to normal; they were just regular worker ants again.

"This tells us that the very act of winning these ritual battles increases dopamine levels in H. saltator, which ultimately leads to the physical changes we see in gamergates," Penick says. "Similarly, losing these fights pushes dopamine levels down."

The findings may offer insight into the behavior of a range of social insect species, Penick says. "Policing behavior occurs in wasps and other ant species, and this study shows just how that behavior can regulate hormone levels to affect physiology and ensure that workers don't reproduce," he explains.


Contact: Matt Shipman
North Carolina State University

Related biology news :

1. Dopamine-receptor gene variant linked to human longevity
2. New research about facial recognition turns common wisdom on its head
3. Commonly used pesticide turns honey bees into picky eaters
4. NTUs new loo turns poo into power
5. EyeLock Inc. Introduces EyeSwipe Nano TS Iris Scanning Turnstile Solution for Secure Access Control
6. How silver turns people blue
7. Gene find turns soldier beetle defence into biotech opportunity
8. GEOLOGY returns to Naica Cave, Mexico, and extends its reach to Mercury
9. Study turns parasite invasion theory on its head
10. Dance of water molecules turns fire-colored beetles into antifreeze artists
11. UCI research turns the corner on autism
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Dopamine turns worker ants into warrior queens
(Date:11/20/2015)... 2015 NXTD ) ("NXT-ID" or ... growing mobile commerce market and creator of the Wocket® ... was recently interviewed on The RedChip Money Report ... weekend on Bloomberg Europe , Bloomberg Asia, Bloomberg ... NXTD ) ("NXT-ID" or the "Company"), a biometric ...
(Date:11/19/2015)... YORK , Nov. 19, 2015  Although some ... market is dominated by a few companies, according to ... companies own 51% of the market share of the ... The World Market for Molecular Diagnostic s ... "The market is still controlled by one company ...
(Date:11/18/2015)... New York , November 18, 2015 ... Market Research has published a new market report titled ... Growth, Trends, and Forecast, 2015 - 2021. According to the ... in 2014 and is anticipated to reach US$29.1 bn ... to 2021. North America ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/30/2015)... ... November 30, 2015 , ... ... Manufacturing Practice (GMP) 10000 in the Santiago Marriott. The Global Stem Cells Group ... by a world-class team of qualified medical researchers and practitioners, experienced in administering ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... 2015  An interventional radiology technique shows promise for helping ... of a study being presented today at the annual meeting ... (RSNA). --> --> ... interventional radiologists as a way to stop bleeding in emergency ... means of treating obesity is new. Mubin Syed ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... includes an MPP licen ... niversity , s Solid Drug Nanoparticle (SDN) Technology ; ... up through cost cuts of priority ... based anywhere in the world will have the right to make, use and distribute ... where licensees based anywhere in the world will have the right to make, use ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... HOLLISTON, Mass. , Nov. 30, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... HART ), a biotechnology company developing bioengineered ... has received written notification from The NASDAQ Stock ... minimum bid price requirements. The letter noted that ... of HART,s common stock having exceeded $1.00 per ...
Breaking Biology Technology: