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Bioessays. 2005 Jan;27(1):91-9.

To b or not to b: a pheromone-binding protein regulates colony social organization in fire ants.

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  • Center for Studies in Physics and Biology, Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10021-6399, USA. krieger@rockefeller.edu


A major distinction in the social organization of ant societies is the number of reproductive queens that reside in a single colony. The fire ant Solenopsis invicta exists in two distinct social forms, one with colonies headed by a single reproductive queen and the other containing several to hundreds of egg-laying queens. This variation in social organization has been shown to be associated with genotypes at the gene Gp-9. Specifically, single-queen colonies have only the B allelic variant of this gene, whereas multiple-queen colonies always have the b variant as well. Subsequent studies revealed that Gp-9 shares the highest sequence similarity with genes encoding pheromone-binding proteins (PBPs). In other insects, PBPs serve as central molecular components in the process of chemical recognition of conspecifics. Fire ant workers regulate the number of egg-laying queens in a colony by accepting queens that produce appropriate chemical signals and destroying those that do not. The likely role of GP-9 in chemoreception suggests that the essential distinction in colony queen number between the single and multiple-queen form originates from differences in workers' abilities to recognize queens. Other, closely related fire ant species seem to regulate colony social organization in a similar fashion.

Copyright 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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