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17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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ScienceShot: The Queen of Sex
16 January 2014 2:00 pm
Worker insects spend their existence tending to the every need of their queens—even giving up their sex lives. But why are queens the only ones allowed to reproduce? The answer lies in pheromones—chemical signals, produced by queens, which workers react to. To further investigate the means behind this reproductive control, researchers looked at the chemicals produced by the queens of three social insects: the buff-tailed bumblebee, the common wasp (pictured), and the desert ant. Once identified, the scientists tested the potential pheromones on isolated workers to see if they prevented reproduction. In all three species, similarly structured alkanes (a type of carbon-based compound) limited the development of the workers’ ovaries, the researchers report online today in Science. In addition, a review of existing studies revealed that alkanes are the most common chemicals overproduced by queens across a wide variety of social insect species. By constructing an evolutionary history, the researchers determined that these pheromones likely date back at least 145 million years, to these insects’ common (and solitary) ancestors—who probably used the chemicals as fertility signals to attract males. Over time, these signals may have developed into a simple communication system, with daughters temporarily giving up reproduction to assist their mothers when the latter were fertile (thereby helping to indirectly pass their genes to the next generation). The researchers believe these signals may have paved the way for subsequent evolution of complex, colonial behaviors seen today among these varied insect groups.