27 January 2020
How termites became social
Published online 18 June 2014
Researchers have sequenced and mapped the genome of dampwood termite (Zootermopsis nevadensis), a member of the order Blattodea (which includes roaches), in an effort to unravel the molecular basis behind its complex social structure, comparing it to other social insects such as honeybees.Like ants, dampwood termites have a caste system, a social organization based on division of labour where few kings and queens commit to reproduction, while others look after the young or guard the colony.
Jürgen Liebig of Arizona State University led an international team, including researchers from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to analyse the genome of the first termite species sequenced and compare it with the genomes of ants and honeybees from the Hymenoptera order, which are not related to termites but adopt similar social lifestyles. The study was published in Nature Communications on May 20 2014.
Unlike Hymenoptera, the termites show expansions in the genes responsible for male fertility and lower counts of olfactory receptor genes. However, the team also found similar molecular principles adopted across Hymnoptera and dampwood termites, including expansion of genes responsible for immunity which are important for largely social insects. They also both produce similar proteins that drive the division of labour among their societies.
- Terrapon, Nicolas et al. Molecular traces of alternative social organisation in a termite genome. Nature Communications (2014) doi:10.1038/ncomms4636