The discovery of a unique way for living creatures to reproduce was made by geneticists who studied yellow crazy ants. This species of ant lives in tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, and Australia. They have been called “crazy” because of their tendency to make rapid, chaotic movements when disturbed. However, the most amazing thing about them is the way they reproduce, which was not previously known to science.
As reported by employees of the German Institute for Organismic and Molecular Evolution, all males of this species are chimeras. Chimeras are living creatures whose bodies contain cells with a different genetic set. Each of the male yellow crazy ants has the genetic set of the female and the genetic set of the male, not mixing with each other, in different cells. In this way, they can each pass on more genomes to their future offspring, making the ant population incredibly resilient.
In normal reproduction of multicellular creatures, the nuclei of the mother’s egg and the father’s sperm fuse together. The common nucleus carries female and male chromosomes. In yellow crazy ants, things happen differently. In them, the male and female nuclei (with the R and W genomes, respectively) divide without fusing together. Thus, the male egg fertilized by the sperm with the reproductive set of genes R will give birth to a queen, a female with the RR set of genes capable of reproduction. If the egg is fertilized with the “male” sperm – W, then the working individuals with the RW set of genes will be born.
The existence of two paternal genomes, R and W, in one male, eventually doubles the number of genomes in the population. If we conventionally compare humans with these ants, it turns out that their offspring can receive a set of genes from either “grandmother” or “grandfather” along the father’s line. Both of these independently transmitted genomes support greater genetic diversity, which in itself improves the population.
Colonies of yellow crazy ants form supercolonies in their habitat with hundreds of breeding mothers. As a result, these insects cause serious damage not only to small animals like crabs or birds, but also to machinery.
This discovery has aroused the interest of many scientists, who have expressed their opinions on the topic. Sergey Kiselev, head of the epigenetics laboratory of the Vavilov Institute of General Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, believes that this discovery can help preserve the genetic diversity of populations of living creatures. He also notes that it may lead to new discoveries in genetics and evolution.
Natalia Nosova, an employee of the Darwin Museum, also expressed her opinion on this topic in her blog. She noted that yellow crazy ants are not only unique creatures, but also pose a threat to other animals and technology. She stressed that it is necessary to continue studying this ant species and its mode of reproduction to better understand the processes of evolution.