Gene-alteration in ants has the potency for medical breakthroughs

According to the study, even an insignificant alteration of the ant’s DNA can impact its social behaviour. The study has the potential to impact research on complex biological systems such as autism, depression and even cancer.

What is the percentage of societal behavior dictated by genetics, could be a million dollar question.

Before you jump forward to claim your prize money, researchers at Rockefeller University have come up with a very probable answer.

By modifying the genes of clonal raider ants to see how the changes impact their social behaviour, both on an individual scale on the colony, the researchers came to the realization that removing the genes for odour receptors turn the ants to “lone wolf” types. Instead of working as a member of a group, the ants would wander around by themselves for days on ends.

The researchers tracked the behavior of these modified ants by painting them in a manner so as to be detectable and trackable by a computer, which spotted even their slightest deviation from their norm.

The scientists also used radioactively-labeled neurochemicals to see exactly where the signaling molecules take hold. After due study they learnt that changing the levels of a key hormone determine an ant’s nurturing instinct. They also noticed that ants who don’t follow the colony’s overall reproductive cycle are put to death by “police” ants.

On a very basic, this study shed light on how ant societies work. It also has the potential to shed light on complex biological systems, after all, if you think about it, an ant colony essentially runs like a collective organism.

Scientists believe, insights such as these could throw some light onto the social elements of our human conditions, such as autism and depression.

It could also help explain why cancer cells ignore the usual cues which signal a cell to stop its growth.

This study on ants has the potential to lead to many medical breakthroughs.


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