Scientists have been investigating the reason that some red fire ant colonies have one queen while others have many queens. The answer, a chromosome variation, may help fight this highly invasive species.
The findings, published in Nature, revealed that red fire ants have a “supergene” containing more than 600 genes that has a B and b variant much like the X and Y chromosomes in humans determine gender. When the worker ants in a colony carry the exclusive BB variant, the colony will only accept a single queen, but when the Bb variant is present, the colony will accept multiple queens.. Scientists studied more than 500 red ants to have an understanding of the genetic structure of the species.
Dr. Yannick Wurm, of Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, and co-author of the study, believes the discovery could enable researchers to identify new strategies for combatting red ants. He suggested that a pesticide that deactivates the “supergene” to be used to cause social anarchy in the ant colonies.
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