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Fast-evolving Genes in Fire Ants Image 3
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Fast-evolving Genes in Fire Ants (Image 3)

April 22, 2013
Queens from a fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) colony prepare to take off on their nuptial flight. A single colony can produce thousands of new queens in a single year. Social insects exhibit a sophisticated social structure. By investigating genome evolution, researchers can explore how social insects produce diverse organismal forms from the same set of genes. Fire 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 involved in creating different sexes, life stages and castes of fire ants and honeybees 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: Eric A. Hoffman and Michael A. D. Goodisman