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Genome comparison of ants establishes new model species for molecular research
Date:8/26/2010

ally modify histones, the spool-like proteins around which the DNA winds. Modification of histones is another key epigenetic mechanism. The enzymes that were found coded in the ant genomes included histone acetyltransferases (HATs) and deacetylases (HDACs).

Another important question the researchers examined is how such epigenetic changes are activated to produce behavioral or structural changes in ants, such as the transformation of a Harpegnathos worker into a functional queen. Ants communicate by complex chemical signals based on touch and smell that trigger particular responses. The researchers identified differences among the ant castes in the expression of genes that may code for these communication functions.

Epigenetic factors also appear to play a significant role in longevity and aging, another major research focus of Berger's research group at Penn. She notes, "This division of existence into worker versus queen, in which workers carry out all the activities of the colony whereas the queen is strictly reproductive, apparently allows the queen to live longer than the workers by a substantial amount, up to tenfold in some species." Queens may also live even a hundred times longer than males.

Indeed, the genomic analysis in one of the species found higher expression levels of telomerase enzymes, which counteract cell aging, in the queens relative to the workers potentially explaining the increased longevity of the queens.

In the near term, the team plans to work with other research groups to compare the genomes of Harpegnathos and Camponotus to other ant species to reveal how their genomes may underlie profound differences among the species. They will also continue to deeply probe the ant as a model organism for more clues on how epigenetic regulation operates to distinguish the ant castes.

"I think it's early to claim that we have clear epigenetic changes, but I think we're certainly headed in that di
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Contact: Karen Kreeger
karen.kreeger@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-5658
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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