Home / Press Release / Scientists use epigenetic drugs to change social behavior in carpenter ants

Scientists use epigenetic drugs to change social behavior in carpenter ants

For a long time now, Scientists are quite fascinated by the caste system in ants, wherein they become either minors or majors. Even though no difference is seen in the genomes of the 2 and the same parents are shared, they are extremely different in behavior and looks.

Researchers resorted to environmental factors in finding the answer, as they were of the opinion that epigenetic factors are responsible for the differences, that change the ants after birth. They discovered that if 1 dose of enzyme is injected, the entire behavior of the epigenome of carpenter ant is changed for months.

As per previous studies, it is shown that biological castes are caused by social insects with the help of food. Since they wanted to test this mechanism on Carpenter ants, the team of development biologist Daniel Simola tried to find out which substance would transform carpenter ants from 1 caste to another.

“The results suggest that behavioral malleability in ants, and likely other animals, may be regulated in an epigenetic manner via histone modification,” said lead author Daniel F. Simola, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the Penn Department of Cell and Developmental Biology.

In short, the team wanted to test whether a major can be made to act like a minor and whether it can abandon the job as a guard for becoming food scout.

After loads of experiments with various enzymes that caused an effect on memory and learning center of the brain, the secret was figured out. It was an injection of enzymes in the major worker ants’ brain shortly after it hatches.

With a very small dosage, new social roles were taken by ants instantly. Even though the ants look very big and powerful, they acted like minors and hunted for food. According to a paper, the modified majors acted like minors for 50 days after injection of enzymes.

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