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Genetics. 2003 Dec;165(4):1853-67.

Alternative genetic foundations for a key social polymorphism in fire ants.

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Department of Entomology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA.


Little is known about the genetic foundations of colony social organization. One rare example in which a single major gene is implicated in the expression of alternative social organizations involves the presumed odorant-binding protein gene Gp-9 in fire ants. Specific amino acid substitutions in this gene invariably are associated with the expression of monogyny (single queen per colony) or polygyny (multiple queens per colony) in fire ant species of the Solenopsis richteri clade. These substitutions are hypothesized to alter the abilities of workers to recognize queens and thereby regulate their numbers in a colony. We examined whether these same substitutions underlie the monogyny/polygyny social polymorphism in the distantly related fire ant S. geminata. We found that Gp-9 coding region sequences are identical in the polygyne and monogyne forms of this species, disproving our hypothesis that one or a few specific amino acid replacements in the protein are necessary to induce transitions in social organization in fire ants. On the other hand, polygyne S. geminata differs genetically from the monogyne form in ways not mirrored in the two forms of S. invicta, a well-studied member of the S. richteri clade, supporting the conclusion that polygyny did not evolve via analogous routes in the two lineages. Specifically, polygyne S. geminata has lower genetic diversity and different gene frequencies than the monogyne form, suggesting that the polygyne form originated via a founder event from a local monogyne population. These comparative data suggest an alternative route to polygyny in S. geminata in which loss of allelic variation at genes encoding recognition cues has led to a breakdown in discrimination abilities and the consequent acceptance of multiple queens in colonies.

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