Breaking News: New Ant Genomes!

A big day for ant science! Four new genomes are public.

These genomes complement two already-released projects, bringing the total to six. Yes, six. A year ago we didn’t have one, and now the floodgates are open.

Although these latest efforts are not the first ant genomes out, today’s announcement is in some respects more significant than the earlier one. Those of us who work in a comparative context- learning by contrasting traits among disparate taxa- now have enough data to start weighing the genomes against each other in a meaningful way.

I should note that I am a co-author on one of the papers (I played a minor role annotating an odorant-binding gene array in Linepithema), so my commentary here is not exactly dispassionate. Nonetheless, I will be posting my impressions of the research this week as time permits.

Until then, here’s a bestiary of the newly-sequenced species:

Linepithema humile

The Argentine ant is one of the world’s most pernicious pest ants, spreading from its native South America to warmer regions around the world. It frequently displaces native species, altering the local ecology, and it also invades homes and greenhouses. This species has become a model social insect for studies of nestmate recognition and for studies of ecological invasions. Click for the genome.

Pogonomyrmex barbatus

The red harvester ant is an iconic desert insect of the American southwest, its enormous nests visible even from satellite photos. This granivorous species has been a model for studying ant social behavior and the genetics of speciation. Click for the genome.

Atta cephalotes

Atta cephalotes is one of several giant leafcutter species native to Central and South America. These ants are true farmers, tending to underground fungus gardens fed with cut vegetation. They are of interest for their highly modified caste structure and for the complexity of their agricultural interactions. Click for the genome.

Solenopsis invicta

The red imported fire ant- another South American insect- is the most studied ant species of all time. Since its arrival in the southern United States from Brazil in the 1930’s, the fire ant and its memorable sting have achieved a sort of infamy. The new genome will complement an extensive scientific literature. Click for the genome.

[note: at the time of this post, not all genomes have yet been released on genbank, though they should have been. grrrr….]

***update*** the genomes are blastable here


9 thoughts on “Breaking News: New Ant Genomes!”

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Breaking News: New Ant Genomes! – MYRMECOS - Insect Photography - Insect Pictures --

  2. Scientists spend all that time and effort to unravel ant genomes and the 1st thing on their mind is how to use that knowledge to kill/control ants. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry but it certainly is indicative of the state of our mindset.

  3. I agree BioBob. I find it rather upsetting that this is the typical view of ants — get rid of them, real ecological and such concerns aside. I look forward to the continued comments, though.

  4. Knowing the authors on the genome papers, I can vouch that a bloodthirsty desire to kill ants is not at all what’s driving their research.

    I suspect the media folks who assembled the press release culled those statements from a longer interview where the researchers were asked to speculate about some downstream applications of the work.

    Having said that, when I lived in CA I spent a lot of time thinking about how to kill Argentine ants. They really are awful, awful creatures in their introduced range, much more damaging to native faunas than fire ants. It’s hard to think about helping the natives without somehow suppressing the invaders.

    1. OK, I can accept that caveat knowing the media penchant for accuracy in reporting lol.

      I am afraid that we will just have to learn how to live with our penchant for reorganizing the worlds biogeography. I can not recall any alien species introduction to a continental landmass which was followed by successful extirpation of that species by humans.

        1. Evolution continues to proceed, even if we ignore or are ignorant about it. Humans introduce a species; it proliferates and changes the relative abundance of impacted species, perhaps even eliminating species. The biota eventually adjust, evolve, and generally restore a new balance which minimizes the impact of the introduction and incorporate the new food source into the trophic system (the newly introduced get eaten, parasitized, etc). Those who look for it have seen it over and over again.

          Something we always need to keep in mind.

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