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Penn State researchers believe ants can offer human-disease insights
Date:5/2/2014

smission will give researchers insights that are applicable to humans, Hughes contends. "We can't introduce pathogens to a building full of school children or to endangered wolves in Yellowstone National Park to see how disease spreads," he said. "By using ants, we can manipulate colony size and structure and repeat experiments over and over to confirm our results.

"We believe what we learn will have great significance for understanding how diseases are transmitted in schools, hospitals, farm fields and other settings."

In addition to the implications for humans, the study could lead to strategies for managing crop damage caused by ants and other pests. Various species of ants are serious pests around the globe, causing losses in crops such as cocoa and cassava in Ghana, for instance, where Hughes conducts some of his research.

"Typically, we treat for ants by placing pesticide baits in a house or a field, but the bait sometimes dissipates and doesn't get back to the nest to kill the queen," he said. "But the sugars and nutrients that foragers collect from crop plants do get back to the nest to nourish the colony.

"If we understand how the nutrients are transmitted back to the nest without breaking down, we may be able to devise tactics to ensure that insecticidal agents in baits also reach the nest."

Hughes said other agricultural applications for the knowledge gained could include better strategies for managing diseases of livestock and crops.

"Transmission is transmission, regardless of where it occurs," he said. "Using novel dynamic network models and spatial movement models, we will identify the important components of social living that both promote disease and, importantly, reduce its spread.

"Our results should provide specific insights into controlling destructive ant colonies and general insights into the mechanisms behind social immunity in humans and other social species."


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Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
aem1@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert

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