VSAmong social insects, queens seem to defy the most basic laws of biology. Genetics first of all. Whether they are bees, wasps, termites or ants, rulers display a size, a longevity, a lifestyle, an immunity that differ in every way from their congeners, even if they have an identical genome. Of course, not everything is in the DNA, it is well known today. But from there to live 30 years, like certain queen ants, when the commoners do not spend the year, is a serious mystery.
All the more so as our crowned heads in passing violate another quite universal rule, namely that between living old or reproducing abundantly, we have to choose. Generating requires energy, even lasting. So the more species lie, the faster they die. And on the contrary, it might remind us of killer whales and elephants. How then can we understand that the aforementioned queen ants can lay a million eggs when their twins produce none?
Of course, their diet is different. Like bees with royal jelly, sovereign ants consume too much fat and protein. But studies in mice as well as in humans have shown that such a diet has never favored access to old age. Many researchers have therefore come up with and tested other hypotheses. The queens’ reduced pace of life, their under-exposure to pathogens, overexpression of defense genes against oxidative stress or those involved in DNA repair have been anticipated, recalls Audrey Dussutour, director of research at CNRS and an ant specialist. But nothing entirely convincing.
Among the jumping ants of South India, “the workers live 7 months, the queens 5 years” Claude Desplan, professor at New York University
In the review Sciencean American team proposes a lead that the French researcher considers ” very serious “ : the role of insulin. Biologists at New York University (NYU) wanted to understand how queens metabolize this hormone, which is as valuable for reproduction as it is harmful, in case of excess, to longevity. For this they exploited the peculiarities of the species Arpegnathos jumper, the South Indian jumping ant. “The workers live 7 months, the queens 5 yearssummarizes Claude Desplan, professor at NYU and coordinator of the study. Males live for a week or two and die after delivering their sperm. ” Most importantly, when a queen dies, she is replaced by three or four of her congeners, “pseudo-queens” or gamergates. They are a little less efficient than the original, they live on average four years, but they offer the advantage of being able to be produced in the laboratory …
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