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Ants Genetic Engineering Leads To Species Interdependency

Findings reported last week reveal how an evolutionary innovation involving the sharing of genes between two ant species has given rise to a deep-seated dependency between them for the survival of both species populations. The new work illustrates how genetic exchange through interbreeding between two species can give rise to a system of interdependence at a high level of biological organization - in this case, the production of worker ants for both species.

Millions of years before the first modern humans evolved, ants were practicing many of the social innovations we consider to be our own: division of labor, agriculture, and even slavery. Indeed, these traits have been taken to their extreme in many ant species, such as the case of slavemaker ants, which have become so specialized for raiding food from the colonies of other ants that they can no longer feed themselves or raise their younger siblings. Recent work on ants suggests that we may need to add genetic engineering to the list of innovations ants have evolved to employ. In two species of harvester ants, populations have been discovered in which queens mate with males of another species to produce genetically novel hybrid workers. In a new study, Dr. Sara Helms Cahan and colleagues demonstrate that both of the species involved have effectively given up the ability to produce pure-species workers in favor of the hybrids, thereby becoming completely dependent on one another for survival. Female ants are generally found in two forms: reproductive queens and sterile workers. The role, or caste, of an individual is determined for life at a certain stage in her development. In virtually all ant species, it is the environment in which a female is raised, rather than a genetic predisposition, that determines which caste she will adopt. However, in two harvester ant populations in southern New Mexico, queens and workers from the same colonies are genetically very different; in both species at the site, only t
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Source:Space Daily


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