Supergene Discovery Leads to New Knowledge of Fire Ants & Pest Control Methods

Fire Ant Macro

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The research study might assist advancement of brand-new bug control approaches.

A unique research study carried out by University of Georgia entomologists resulted in the discovery of a distinct supergene in fire ant nests that figures out whether young queen ants will leave their birth nest to begin their own brand-new nest or if they will sign up with one with several queens.

Researchers likewise discovered that ants were more aggressive towards queens who don’t have the supergene, triggering primary nest employees to eliminate them. This vital finding unlocks to brand-new bug control approaches that might be more effective in removing bothersome fire ant nests.

“Learning about the way fire ants behave is very important baseline information,” stated Ken Ross, a teacher of entomology at UGA. “This information is key to helping us manage pest populations and predict what dissimilarities can happen in their environment.”

Studying social structure

A supergene is a collection of surrounding genes found on a chromosome that are acquired together due to close hereditary linkage. Studying these special genes is essential to comprehending the possible causes for distinctions amongst the social structure of fire ants, particularly for managing the types and structure on the existing understanding base.

Researchers concentrated on young queen fire ants starting nuptial flights. They compared the supergene’s effect on the fire ants’ 2 main kinds of social structures: monogyne, which is recreation from queens that form a brand-new nest, and pologyne, recreation from queens that sign up with an existing nest.

Fire Ant

A Fire Ant. Credit: UGA

Ross at first worked along with associates in his laboratory to find an exceptional example of genetically encoded distinctions in social company within the fire ant types Solenopsis invicta. The next action was to comprehend how these hereditary distinctions lead to complicated behavioral and physiological variations amongst ants from single queen nests versus nests with several queens. Compounding this understanding assists researchers even more comprehend patterns of advancement in the types, increasing options to fight intrusive populations.

Led by a set of UGA entomology graduate alumni, Joanie King, who made her master’s degree in 2017, and Samuel Arsenault, who made his postgraduate degree in 2020, the group established a speculative style that used a collection of samples from 2 fire ant organs — brain and ovarian tissues — and the total variety of social chromosome genotypes and social types within this fire ant types.

Winged Fire Ants

Winged ants are called reproductives. Credit: UGA

The ingenious research study included different clinical approaches, causing a partnership of tools and resources throughout numerous locations of the organization.

“UGA was a very supportive environment to conduct this research,” stated Brendan Hunt, associate teacher of entomology. “We got assistance preparing samples for RNA sequencing from Dr. Bob Schmitz’s laboratory in the genes department, carried out the sequencing at the Georgia Genomics and Bioinformatics Core, and used computational resources from the Georgia Advanced Computing Resource Center to examine the information.”

Hands-on research study

These kinds of student-led tasks provide young scientists the opportunity to grow in a hands-on environment with mentorship and assistance from researchers with tested performance history in the field.

“The graduate students gained experience that helped them transition to the next stages of their careers,” stated Hunt. “Both have gone on to continue their studies of ant genetics.”

After making their degrees and finishing the research study at UGA, King started pursuing a doctorate at Texas A&M University to study along with Edward Vargo, and Arsenault works as a postdoctoral scientist with Harvard University’s Buck Trible Lab.

Reference: “Simple inheritance, complex regulation: Supergene‐mediated fire ant queen polymorphism” by Samuel V. Arsenault, Joanie T. King, Sasha Kay, Kip D. Lacy, Kenneth G. Ross and Brendan G. Hunt, 4 August 2020, Molecular Ecology.
DOI: 10.1111/mec.15581

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