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Fast-evolving Genes in Fire Ants (Image 1)

A fire ant (<em>Solenopsis invicta</em>) queen prepares to take off on her nuptial flight

A fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) queen prepares to take off on her nuptial flight. This is the only time in the queen's life that she will be alone. A queen spends the rest of her life as a member of a highly interdependent society that consists of individuals belonging to different castes, developmental stages and sexes.

The ants were the focus of a study by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, which found that genes involved in creating developmental differences in social insects evolved more rapidly than genes not involved in these processes. The researchers also found that these fast-evolving genes exhibited elevated rates of evolution even before they were recruited to produce diverse forms of an organism.

"This was a totally unexpected finding because most theory suggested that genes involved in producing diverse forms of an organism would evolve rapidly, specifically because they generated developmental differences," said Michael Goodisman, an associate professor in the School of Biology at Georgia Tech. "Instead, this study suggests that fast-evolving genes are actually predisposed to generating new developmental forms."

The project was supported by the National Science Foundation (grant DEB 06-40690).

To learn more, see the Georgia Tech Research News story Organism Diversity: Fast-Evolving Genes Control Developmental Differences in Social Insects. (Date of Image: 2005-10) [Image 1 of 3 related images. See Image 2.]

Credit: Eric A. Hoffman and Michael A. D. Goodisman

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