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Science. 2002 Jul 12;297(5579):249-52.

Evolution of the gene network underlying wing polyphenism in ants.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Duke University, Post Office Box 90338, Durham, NC 27708, USA. abouheif@duke.edu


Wing polyphenism in ants evolved once, 125 million years ago, and has been a key to their amazing evolutionary success. We characterized the expression of several genes within the network underlying the wing primordia of reproductive (winged) and sterile (wingless) ant castes. We show that the expression of several genes within the network is conserved in the winged castes of four ant species, whereas points of interruption within the network in the wingless castes are evolutionarily labile. The simultaneous evolutionary lability and conservation of the network underlying wing development in ants may have played an important role in the morphological diversification of this group and may be a general feature of polyphenic development and evolution in plants and animals.

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