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Altering One Single Gene In A Termite Queen Results In Colony-Wide Anarchy

January 12th, 2018

Altering One Single Gene In A Termite Queen Results In Colony-Wide Anarchy

There are around twenty six hundred different termite species living today. All of these species are somewhat different. For example, when it comes to replacing a dead queen, some colonies have secondary reproductive termites that are ready to fulfill the queen’s throne. But in other termite species, the death of a queen will cause anarchy in a colony. In these cases, members of a colony’s social order will fight one another on a colony-wide scale. The victor wins the queen’s throne, and is soon able to reproduce. Pheromones secreted by the queen prevent the growth of sexual organs in workers. After a queen’s death, this pheromone is no longer produced, thus allowing a victorious termite to develop sexual organs in order to fulfill the queen’s duties. This termite behavior has long been known, but there are still many questions among researchers regarding a termite queen’s pheromones. A recent study has delved into the genetics that are responsible for the production of these pheromones.

Judith Korb from the University of Osnabrueck in Germany compared a queen termite’s genes with the genes of her worker and soldier offspring. Eventually, Korb discovered a gene that was unique to queens. This gene is known as Neofem2. It was determined that this gene is responsible for producing the pheromone that makes colony members obedient to the queen’s rule.

Korb deactivated this gene in order to see how a colony would react if the queen could no longer produce this pheromone. Korb found that eight different colonies of the Cryptotermes secundus species fell into violent anarchy after their queen’s were deprived of their pheromones. The workers behaved as though the queen had died, and a war of succession within the colony soon took place. The termite underlings that headbutted other termites the most often ascended to the throne. The queen was left unharmed in these experiments, and none of the workers developed sexual organs in the absence of the queen’s pheromones. This suggests that the queen’s pheromones are not the only factors that leads to the development of sexual organs among worker termites.

Do you think termite colonies that replace queens with secondary reproductives are still influenced by a queen’s pheromones?

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