Navigation Links
Worker ants of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your fertility

This release is available in French.

The highly specialized worker castes in ants represent the pinnacle of social organization in the insect world. As in any society, however, ant colonies are filled with internal strife and conflict. So what binds them together? More than 150 years ago, Charles Darwin had an idea and now he's been proven right.

Evolutionary biologists at McGill University have discovered molecular signals that can maintain social harmony in ants by putting constraints on their fertility. Dr. Ehab Abouheif, of McGill's Department of Biology, and post-doctoral researcher, Dr. Abderrahman Khila, have discovered how evolution has tinkered with the genes of colonizing insects like ants to keep them from fighting amongst themselves over who gets to reproduce.

"We've discovered a really elegant developmental mechanism, which we call 'reproductive constraint,' that challenges the classic paradigm that behaviour, such as policing, is the only way to enforce harmony and squash selfish behaviour in ant societies," said Abouheif, McGill's Canada Research Chair in Evolutionary Developmental Biology.

Reproductive constraint comes into play in these ant societies when evolutionary forces begin to work in a group context rather than on individuals, the researchers said. The process can be seen in the differences between advanced ant species and their more primitive cousins. The study was published in the Nov. 18 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ants organized in colonies around one or many queens surrounded by their specialized female workers are classic examples of what are called eusocial organisms.

"More primitive, or ancestral, ants tend to have smaller colony sizes and have much higher levels of conflict over reproduction than the more advanced species," Abouheif explained. "That's because the workers have a much higher reproductive capacity and there is conflict with the queen to produce offspring."

To their surprise, Khila and Abouheif discovered that "evolution has tinkered with the molecular signals that are used by the egg to determine what's going to be the head and what's going to be the tail, to stop the worker ants from producing viable offspring," Abouheif explained. "Different species of ants have different levels of this "reproductive constraint," and we believe those levels provide a measure of how eusocial the colony is. The less the workers reproduce, the more coherent the group becomes."

The existence of sterile castes of ants tormented Charles Darwin as he was formulating his Theory of Natural Selection, and he described them as the "one special difficulty, which at first appeared to me insuperable, and actually fatal to my theory." If adaptive evolution unfolds by differential survival of individuals, how can individuals incapable of passing on their genes possibly evolve and persist?

Darwin proposed that in the case of ant societies natural selection applies not only to the individual, because the individual would never benefit by cutting its own reproduction, but also to the family or group. This study supports Darwin's prescient ideas, and provides a molecular measure of how an entire colony can be viewed as a single or "superorganism."


Contact: Mark Shainblum
McGill University

Related biology news :

1. Satellites helping aid workers in Honduras
2. Biosolids microbes pose manageable risk to workers
3. Case Western Reserve University study looks at keeping migrant workers children healthy
4. A bees future as queen or worker may rest with parasitic fly
5. Poultry workers at increased risk of carrying antibiotic-resistant E. coli
6. Scientists develop a fast system to detect metal concentrations in iron and steel industry workers
7. Survey finds elevated rates of new asthma among WTC rescue and recovery workers
8. Nothing stops an expert in the art of living
9. Salt-tolerant gene found in simple plant nothing to sneeze at
10. Ragweed research is nothing to sneeze at
11. Proteins in sperm unlock understanding of male infertility says new study
Post Your Comments:
(Date:4/28/2016)... -- First quarter 2016:   , Revenues ... first quarter of 2015 The gross margin was 49% ... and the operating margin was 40% (-13) Earnings per ... from operations was SEK 249.9 M (21.2) , Outlook ... 7,000-8,500 M. The operating margin for 2016 is estimated ...
(Date:4/15/2016)... CHICAGO , April 15, 2016  A ... companies make more accurate underwriting decisions in a ... offering timely, competitively priced and high-value life insurance ... health screenings. With Force Diagnostics, rapid ... and lifestyle data readings (blood pressure, weight, pulse, ...
(Date:3/31/2016)... 31, 2016   ... the "Company") LegacyXChange is excited to release ... soon to be launched online site for trading 100% ... ) will also provide potential shareholders a sense of ... to an industry that is notorious for fraud. The ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/24/2016)... NY (PRWEB) , ... June 24, 2016 , ... While ... machines such as the Cary 5000 and the 6000i models are higher end machines ... is the height of the spectrophotometer’s light beam from the bottom of the cuvette ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... 23, 2016 , ... Mosio, a leader in clinical research ... Recruitment and Retention Tips.” Partnering with experienced clinical research professionals, Mosio revisits the ... tools, and strategies for clinical researchers. , “The landscape of how patients receive ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... 2016   Boston Biomedical , an industry ... to target cancer stemness pathways, announced that its ... Drug Designation from the U.S. Food and Drug ... including gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) cancer. Napabucasin is an ... cancer stemness pathways by targeting STAT3, and is ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... A person commits a crime, and the detective ... the criminal down. An outbreak of foodborne illness ... (FDA) uses DNA evidence to track down the bacteria that ... It,s not. The FDA has increasingly used a complex, cutting-edge ... illnesses. Put as simply as possible, whole genome sequencing is ...
Breaking Biology Technology: