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Research uncovers the social dynamics of yellow jackets
Date:2/18/2008

vestigate how yellow jacket development leads to a caste system with queens, males and workers each with a different role in the colony. The queens mate with males to produce new queens and workers, but dont require a male to produce new males. The female workers maintain and expand the colony, while the new queens and males just hang out and eat until its time to mate.

The division of labor has made these animals so incredibly successful in cooperative behaviors, but workers and queens are genetically the same, explained Goodisman.

Goodisman aimed to determine how these insects start with the same DNA but end up as such different insects. With help from Hoffman and graduate student Brendan Hunt, Goodisman learned that yellow jackets of the same developmental age express many genes in common regardless of their caste or gender. They also found that certain genes are turned on or off to create the different castes.

This study was published in the journal BMC Biology and Goodisman plans to continue this gene expression research in collaboration with Soojin Yi, also an assistant professor in Georgia Techs School of Biology.

Were going to use more sophisticated techniques to look at thousands of genes at once to really make big statements about how different queens are from workers and males, said Goodisman.

Decision-making within a colony also intrigues Goodisman. Different events occur in the colony based on the time of year. For example, the queen constructs a nest and rears the first cohort of workers in the spring. Once the workers mature, they take over the task of colony maintenance and expand the nest by constructing a worker nest throughout the spring and summer. At the end of the summer, the colony begins to produce males and new reproductive queens.

We want to know whos telling the workers to stop making more workers and start making queens, so were studying the life cycle of yellow jacket colonies, expl
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Contact: Abby Vogel
avogel@gatech.edu
404-385-3364
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News
Source:Eurekalert  

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