"The diversity in social structure between the different ants sequenced will allow us to search for the genetic basis and the architecture underlying the observed social diversity in ants," Gadau explained. "A comparison with bees, a completely independent evolutionary lineage, will give us an opportunity to test whether there are multiple ways how a genome can become a sociogenome."
Finally, the team observed evidence of epigenetic differences--or changes in appearance that can be inherited--in genes related to division of labor and reproduction. In this case, the genes responsible for development of wings and ovaries, role-specific traits in a red harvester and colony, appear to show some differences.
According to the researchers, the finding implies that, although the genes themselves are present in both worker and queen ants, when and where the genes are expressed is highly regulated and heritable from one generation to the next.
"Everything we can learn about epigenetic modifications will probably have major implications for human health since these mechanisms are thought to be critical in the development of complex diseases of humans, such as mental illnesses and diabetes," said Gadau.
|Contact: Lisa Van Pay|
National Science Foundation