Argentine ant genome: Revealing peek at a pervasive pest
By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
Photography by: Alex Wild
The genome of the highly invasive Argentine ant, well on its way to wiping out many native ant species in California, has been sequenced. The effort is part of a consortium of researchers who sequenced the genomes of a total of four ant species.
The researchers found that all the ants, but the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) in particular, have a tremendous number of genes devoted to taste and smell. The ant lives in a chemical world and their genome shows it. "They're just bristling with these sensors," says Neil Tsutsui, professor at the University of California, Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management, and an author on three of the papers.
Argentine ants have 367 genes for sensory receptors for odor and 116 for taste, they found. By comparison, the honeybee has 174 genes for odor and 10 for taste, and the mosquito has 79 genes for odor and 76 for taste.
The Argentine ants also have lots of genes that help detoxify harmful substances, 111 such genes, while European honeybees, in comparison, have 46. Tsutsui says knowing where these genes are could help researchers look at pesticide resistance.
Two other ant genomes, the red harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) and the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), as well as the Argentine ant are being published in the Jan. 31 edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, The fourth, the leaf-cutter ant (Atta cephalotes), is scheduled for publication in the Feb. 24 issue of the journal PLoS Genetics.