Single molecule controls uncommon ants’ change from employee to queen-like standing


A Harpegnathos saltator employee captured in an aggressive show (open mandibles) aimed on the photographer. Credit: Karl Glastad (Berger Lab)

Depending on the result of social conflicts, ants of the species Harpegnathos saltator do one thing uncommon: they will change from a employee to a queen-like standing generally known as gamergate. Now, researchers reporting within the journal Cell on November 4th have made the shocking discovery {that a} single protein, known as Kr-h1 (Krüppel homolog 1), responds to socially regulated hormones to orchestrate this complicated social transition.

“Animal brains are plastic; that is, they can change their structure and function in response to the environment,” says Roberto Bonasio of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. “This course of, which additionally takes place in human brains—take into consideration the modifications in behavior during adolescence—is crucial to survival, but the molecular mechanisms that control it are not fully understood. We determined that, in ants, Kr-h1 curbs brains’ plasticity by preventing inappropriate gene activation.”

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In an ant colony, employees keep the colony by discovering meals and preventing invaders, whereas the queen’s essential job is to put eggs. And, but, it’s the similar genetic directions that give rise to those very completely different social roles and behaviors. By finding out ants, Bonasio and colleagues, together with Shelley Berger, additionally on the University of Pennsylvania, wished to know how turning sure genes “on” or “off” impacts mind operate and habits. Because Harpegnathos adults can change from a worker to a gamergate, they had been good for such research.

Single molecule controls unusual ants' switch from worker to queen-like status
Illustration displaying ant with eggs. Credit: Tim Christopher, primarily based on pictures by Brigitte Baella and Karl Glastad

So that they might research the underlying molecular occasions that trigger such a change, the analysis workforce, led by co-first authors Janko Gospocic and Karl Glastad, developed a technique for isolating neurons from the ants and conserving them alive in plastic dishes within the lab. This allowed the workforce to discover how the cells responded to modifications of their setting, together with hormone levels.

These research additional determine that two hormones, juvenile hormone and ecdysone, that are current at completely different ranges within the our bodies of employees and gamergates, produced distinct patterns of gene activation within the brains of the 2 castes. The largest shock was that each hormones influenced the cells by activating a single protein, Kr-h1.

“This protein regulates different genes in workers and gamergates and prevents the ants from performing ‘socially inappropriate’ behaviors,” Berger says. “That is to say, Kr-h1 is required to maintain the boundaries between social castes and to ensure that workers continue to work while gamergates continue to act like queens.”

Single molecule controls unusual ants' switch from worker to queen-like status
Illustration displaying how transcriptional repressor Kr-h1 stabilizes caste identification by suppressing inappropriate social behaviors. Credit: Roberto Bonasio, primarily based on pictures by Brigitte Baella and Karl Glastad

“We had not anticipated that the same protein could silence different genes in the brains of different castes and, as a consequence, suppress worker behavior in gamergates and gamergate behavior in workers,” Bonasio provides. “We thought that these jobs would be assigned to two or more different factors, each of them only present in one or the other brain.”

The findings reveal vital roles for socially regulated hormones and gene regulation within the capability of animal brains to modify from one genetic mode and social caste to a different. “The key message is that, at least in ants, multiple behavioral patterns are simultaneously specified in the genome and that gene regulation can have a great impact on which behavior that organism carries out,” Berger says. “In other words, the parts of both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are already written into the genome; everyone can play either role, depending on which gene switches are turned on or off.”

The researchers assume the implications might go a lot farther than understanding behavioral plasticity in ants and different bugs. “It is tempting to speculate that related proteins might have comparable functions in more complex brains, including our own,” says Bonasio. “Discovering these proteins might allow us to one day restore plasticity to brains that have lost it, for example aging brains.”

The discovery {that a} single issue can suppress completely different units of genes and behaviors in numerous brains raises vital questions on how the twin operate of this protein and others prefer it may be regulated. In future research, the researchers plan to discover the position of Kr-h1 in different organisms. They say in addition they wish to discover how the setting impacts gene regulation on the epigenetic degree—via the presence or absence of sure chemical marks on DNA—and the way this in flip impacts brain plasticity and habits.

Some Indian jumping ant workers can transition to a queen-like state

More data:
Roberto Bonasio & colleauges, Kr-h1 maintains distinct caste-specific neurotranscriptomes in response to socially regulated hormones, Cell (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.10.006.

Journal data:

Single molecule controls uncommon ants’ change from employee to queen-like standing (2021, November 4)
retrieved 4 November 2021

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