STATES CHRONICLE – Ants have fascinated the scientific world for a very long time. Not only are they social creatures, like us, but they also strictly stick to their designated roles. In an attempt to reveal more about the nature vs. nurture dilemma, scientists reveal that an individual’s behavior can be reprogrammed via epigenetic drugs.
The study, led by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, focused on a number of Florida carpenter ants.
The Florida carpenter ants were very useful in this test due to the social differences between genetically identical individuals.
You see, these ants occupy two social functions: the minors are small, agile, and curious, food collectors, while majors are big, bulky, but slow guards.
The really interesting part is that both types of ants can originate from the same parents, and still be genetically identical, despite their obvious differences.
So, scientists decided to see if they can change some of their behaviors, in order to find out more about social roles and what they are determined by.
The research, led by developmental biologist Daniel Simola, from the University of Pennsylvania, focused on isolating gene sequences that give an individual their social roles, and then modify them in a number of ants.
So, as soon as they were born, the ants had injected a single dose of epigenetic drugs into their brain, and were left to their regular antics (pun definitely intended).
The results were quite spectacular, as the chemicals immediately modified the balance of acetyl groups in the brain, leading to a modified behavior in the subjects.
Therefore, as the ants grew, the big and bulky major ants, starting going out in search of food.
The compound used manipulated the ants’ genetic make-up, turning some genes off, and others on, without actually interfering with their DNA. This led to long-term and even permanent changes in the individuals.
Also suggested by the research is the fact that environmental factors play a huge role in an individual’s social behavior.
The insects were perfect for this study due to the individuals’ nearly identical genetic make-up, very similar to that of twins.
The fact that the insects had two different castes – the majors and the minors – which looked and acted totally different despite them having the same DNA caused scientists to once again delve into the long-lasting nature vs. nurture debate.
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