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In the first half of 2011 the genomes of the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) and the red harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) were sequenced. This sequencing provides insights on how ant embryos with the same genetic code develop into either queens or workers.

Ants have the same genome signature of DNA methylation (a molecular mechanism) that is responsible for switching whether the genome is read to be a worker or queen in Bees.

In ants, queens are typically larger than workers and sport wings and fertile. Worker ants are smaller, wingless and infertile and carry out distinct duties within a colony.

As an ant larva develops, DNA methylation, which involves methyl chemical groups attaching onto the DNA, may switch off the genes that control reproductive capacity and wing growth. This suggests that ants start life with capacity to become queens and the additional capacities are switched off.

Tags: Linepithema | Morphology & Physiology | Evolution | Pogonomyrmex

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