Washington, July 18 : A new study from the University of Lausanne and the University of Georgia has shed light on how interactions between genes and the environment influence social behaviour in ants.
The study found that a relatively small number of genes, many of which apparently play a role in chemical communication significantly affect ants' social organization.
The fire ant Solenopsis invicta displays a natural variation in the number of queens per colony. Scientists identified a gene called Gp-9, which determines whether workers tolerate a single fertile queen (monogene social form) or multiple queens (polygene social form) in their colony.
They identified 39 genes differentially expressed between workers with different Gp-9 genotypes, including several genes likely to regulate chemical signalling and response.
The chemical communication mediated by these gene products is essential to the regulation of colony queen number and social organization.
The team also identified 91 genes that are indirectly influenced by the social environment, including Gp-9 genotypes of nest mates that explains how specific social environments can modulate individual gene expression in group members.
The study is published July 18th in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics.