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The Ultimate Worlds | December 12, 2017

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Decode the genome of Termites, to better understand their social behavior

Decode the genome of Termites, to better understand their social behavior
Staff Reporter

These insect societies have a small group of spawners and a large majority of sterile members who are responsible for foraging, defense of the nest and brood care. According to Wikipedia, “Termites are a group of eusocial insects that, until recently, were classified at the taxonomic rank of order Isoptera, but are now accepted as the infraorder Isoptera, of the cockroach order Blattodea.”

An international research team has succeeded in mapping and analyzing the genome of a species of termite. What gain valuable information for understanding the organization of social insects. “Our research is the first step towards the study of the general foundations of complex social behavior in insects ” says biologist Judith Korb, of the University of Fribourg.

Termites are characterized by social companies including a small group of spawners and a large majority of sterile members who are responsible for foraging , defense of the nest and brood care.

This type of social organization is called eusociality and is seen in the Hymenoptera ( such as ants, bees and wasps) and termites. To understand the genetic basis of eusociality , researchers have sequenced the genome of the termite, Zootermopsis nevadensis, and compared their data with previous studies on Hymenoptera.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, shows similarities in the number and the expression of genes involved in immunity , reproduction and hormonal secretions. All of these genes are important for maintaining a eusocial structure.

There are also differences , mainly regarding the genes involved in sperm production and smell. They can be explained by lifestyle: in termites males copulate with females several times unlike what happens in ants or bees. On the other hand , termites leave less often their habitat in search of food ( they feed on wood that has widened the mound ), olfactory recognition systems are less sophisticated.

This work provides insight into the biological mechanisms underlying direct social organization in termites and related species. It provides a valuable resource for future studies on the evolution of insects.