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Job switching in ants: role of a kinase
Communicative and Integrative Biology
Reproductive division of labour is a defining characteristic of eusociality in insect societies. The task of reproduction is performed by the fertile males and queens of the colony, while the non-fertile female worker caste performs all other tasks related to colony upkeep, foraging and nest defence. Division of labour, or polyethism, within the worker caste is organized such that specific tasks are performed by discrete groups of individuals. Ordinarily, workers of one group will not participate in the tasks of other groups making the groups of workers behaviourally distinct. In some eusocial species, this has led to the evolution of a remarkable diversity of subcaste morphologies within the worker caste, and a division of labour amongst the subcastes. This caste polyethism is best represented in many species of ants where a smaller-bodied minor subcaste typically performs foraging duties while larger individuals of the major subcaste are tasked with nest defence. Recent work suggests that polyethism in the worker caste is influenced by an evolutionarily conserved, yet diversely regulated, gene called foraging (for), which encodes a cGMP-dependent protein kinase (PKG). Additionally, flexibility in the activity of this enzyme allows for workers from one task group to assist the workers of other task groups in times of need during the colony's life.
foraging, defence, Pheidole palllidula, ants, kinase
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