Science manage to double the size of experimental ants

Science manage to double the size of experimental ants

A team of scientists in Canada have said that they have managed to double the size of experimental ants after they analysed how environment affects the size of the animals.

Ehab Abouheif of McGill University's evolutionary and developmental biology lab and co-author of the study, said that studied ant colonies and analysed why some ants of the same species were bigger than others. Abouheif worked with fellow researchers, including McGill geneticist Moshe Syzf to study how environments affected the size of ants.

The researchers collected samples of the social insects from several ant colonies. They found that the size of the animals depended uponhow much a single gene known as EGFR had been "coated" by a chemical process called methylation. They said that about 70 per cent of size differences between individual ants was a result of how heavily methylated the gene was on a statistical basis. The team then manipulated the methylation of that one gene and were able to grow ants that were twice as big or half the size of normal, which ranges from 1.6 to 2.5 millimetres long.

"We used to think that traits like size that fall along a continuum were controlled by many, many, many genes, each having a small role, with the environment having a smoothing-out role. What we've found is something quite fundamental - by putting a coat on a single gene, you can generate that whole continuum in size. You get this chemical coating on the gene that modifies the way the gene works. You don't need any changes in the gene," said Abouheif.

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