Genetics

Recently, the standard of proof in molecular biology has required demonstration of gene function by knocking out or overexpressing a gene in an experimental system. This comparison is not yet possible at the organismal level in ants either through selective breeding or gene transfer, but has been successfully achieved for primary tissue culture in S. invicta (Consoli, 2002; Chen, 2004). To date, no one has developed an immortal cell line for any social insect. Eventually, one may find a way to breed the ant model systems above, either by simulating the natural mating conditions or by artificial insemination as is done for honey bees, but neither has yet been accomplished.

The lack of a genome sequence for ants does not pose as much of a practical problem as one might think. Although S. invicta is the only ant species with a very large cDNA sequence database, differential gene expression studies with specifically targeted genes or suppressive subtractive hybridization are still possible using genomes already sequenced. Specific genes can be cloned by aligning sequences from the honeybee, fruit fly, mosquito, silk worm and fire ant sequence databases using the program CODEHOP (Rose et al., 1998) with the Lasius niger codon usage table selected. This technique has been successfully employed to clone numerous L. niger genes, including an extracellular SOD, which was not thought to exist in insects (Parker et al., 2004b).

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