Gene-Edited Mutant Ants Create Chaotic Colony

Gene-Edited Mutant Ants Create Chaotic Colony

Scientists using radical new technology to create the first-ever mutant ants have been left stunned by the affect their experiments have had on the insects’ social life.

Researchers employed CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology in an attempt to overcome the complex social roles of two different kinds of ants. The plan was designed to create more ‘mother ants’ capable of giving birth to a future generation of mutants.

In both species – Indian jumping ants known as Harpegnathos saltator and clonal raider ants Ooceraea biroi – the removal of genes that are crucial to the development of ants’ odor receptors resulted in a near-complete breakdown of the society. The tests saw ants wandering away from the colony and refusing to forage for the group.

"Suddenly these ants aren't really social any more,” said Rockefeller University biologist Daniel Kronauer, an author of one of the studies“They just walk around.”

The two studies, published in the journal Cell along with a third about brain hormones affecting behavior, could open the door to new model organisms.

As they were looking to model communities, scientists focused on ants for their complex way of life, social hierarchy and process of reproduction.

"There's a lot of interesting biological questions that you can study with ants that you can't study with fruit flies or even mice," said Kronauer.

In the event that a colony of jumping ants loses its queen, soldier ants usually engage in antennae duels to become the colony’s next ‘pseudo-queen.’

 

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