(ORDO NEWS) — The ability to reproduce and lifespan in female ants are regulated by insulin and related cellular signaling pathways.
The vast majority of the inhabitants of the anthill are females, working individuals, busy with their own affairs and barren.
Only the uterus, which produces eggs of new workers, is capable of reproduction. She is the central figure in the family and lives much (sometimes tens of times) longer than the rest. If the uterus dies, death threatens everyone.
However, in some species of ants, workers retain the reproductive system. If necessary, such insects are able to become gamergates and continue breeding.
This is a rather profound restructuring of the body, which is even accompanied by a change in the size of the brain. At the same time, their life expectancy increases dramatically.
The gamergates of Harpegnathos ants live five times as long as workers, but if the insect returns to a sterile state, its lifespan is shortened again.
Such manipulations attracted the attention of biologists from New York University, who decided to find out what mechanisms give ants this unusual ability.
The scientists compared gene expression between workers and gamergates of the Idian jumping ants ( Harpegnathos saltator ).
It turned out that during the transition to a new caste, insulin synthesis is activated, triggering various signaling pathways associated with it.
Insulin is one of the most important animal hormones, its key role is to regulate the utilization of glucose in the body. However, the functions of insulin are far from limited.
It is involved in many cellular signaling pathways, triggering the synthesis of fats and proteins, affects metabolism in general and various other physiological processes occurring in various tissues.
Thus, increased insulin production in gamergates activates the MAPK signaling pathway , which stimulates the ovaries.
They receive lipids, the synthesis of vitellogenin, a protein necessary for the formation of eggs, is enhanced. All this gives the gamergates the ability to reproduce.
On the other hand, increased amounts of insulin should also activate the AKT signaling pathway , resulting in a reduced lifespan.
To prevent this from happening, the Imp-L2 protein, an analogue of insulin, is synthesized in the ovaries of gamergates, which weakens some of its effects.
Imp-L2 blocks the work of the second signaling pathway, and the lifespan of insects even increases.
It is not yet clear why this molecule affects some signaling pathways but does not affect others. Perhaps new research will reveal this.
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