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Fast-evolving Genes in Fire Ants Image 2
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Fast-evolving Genes in Fire Ants (Image 2)

April 22, 2013
Social insects such as the fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) display a remarkable variety of different forms. Shown here are fire ants of different castes and life stages: (top-bottom) worker, male and queen castes; (left-right) adult, pupal and larval stages. 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 the genes that control 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). Credit: Amanda L. Palaski and Ariel R. Thompson