PHILADELPHIA - By comparing two species of ants, Shelley Berger, PhD, the Daniel S. Och University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues Danny Reinberg, PhD, New York University, and Juergen Liebig, PhD, Arizona State University, have established an important new avenue of research for epigenetics -- the study of how the expression or suppression of particular genes affects an organism's characteristics, development, and even behavior.
Ants, the new model system used in this study, organize themselves into caste-based societies in which most of the individuals are sterile females, limited to highly specialized roles such as workers and soldiers. Only one queen and the relatively small contingent of male ants are fertile and able to reproduce. Yet despite such extreme differences in behavior and physical form, all females within the colony appear to be genetically identical.
Berger, who directs Penn's Epigenetics program, and colleagues believe that epigenetic mechanisms - chemical modifications to DNA and its supporting proteins that affect gene expression may be critical in establishing such broad variations in behavior and morphology that arise in individuals, despite having the same genome.
In a study published in Science this week, Berger, her Penn colleagues, and a diverse international team of collaborators including ant biologists, geneticists, and biochemists from Arizona State, NYU, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, showed how differences in gene expression between two ant species, the Florida carpenter ant (Camponotus floridanus) and Jerdon's jumping ant (Harpegnathos saltator), correlate with separate castes in each.
Sequencing the genomes of each species for the first time, the team also used RNA sequencing to study what Berger calls "the question of whether the differences between female workers and female queens is m
|Contact: Karen Kreeger|
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine