Researchers Crack Argentine Ant Genome

Researchers from a pair of California universities have successfully sequenced the genome of the Argentine ant, shedding light on exactly why the species has thrived and leading to hopes that the knowledge might lead to the development of more effective pest control solutions.

The draft genome of this specific creature, known scientifically as Linepithema humile, is one of three published by experts at University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) and San Francisco State University in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Monday.

Joining it are the red harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) and the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), while a fourth–the leaf-cutter ant (Atta cephalotes)–is scheduled for publication in the February 10 issue of the journal PLoS Genetics.

“The Argentine ant is a species of special concern because of its enormous ecological impact,” corresponding author Neil D. Tsutsui, an associate professor at UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management, said in a statement Monday.

“When the Argentine ants invade, they devastate the native insect communities while promoting the population growth of agricultural pests,” he added. “This genome map will provide a huge resource for people interested in finding effective, targeted ways of controlling the Argentine ant.”

Tsutsui, lead author Christopher D. Smith, an assistant professor of biology at San Francisco State University, and 48 other researchers joined forces on the project.

According to a January 31 press release from the San Francisco university, mapping the ant’s genome could led to “a better understanding of how larvae develop into queens or workers could support the development of new control methods that use more benign chemicals to limit the number of queens born in a colony, effectively sterilizing the population.”

“Our analysis suggests that ants may utilize the same genetic system as honeybees to create their social structures, although we have yet to understand whether the process works in exactly the same way across species,” Smith said.

Furthermore, according to AFP reports, the research team discovered that the Argentine ant has a total of 367 sensory receptors for odor (twice as many as honeybees) and 116 for taste (40 more than the mosquito), as well as a “genetic shield” that protects them “against harmful substances.”

Image Caption: This is an Argentine ant (Linepithema humile). Scientists have deciphered the genome of this household pest and invasive species. The sequenced genome, published in the Jan. 31 online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could provide new insights on how embryos with the same genetic code develop into either queens or workers ants and may advance our understanding of invasion biology and pest control. Credit: Photo:

Image 2: The genome of the red harvester ant, a social insect, was recently sequenced in an effort to understand the evolution of complex societies. Credit: Joseph Berger,; licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License

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