'Facebook Chromosome' Discovered in Fire Ants

First Posted: Jan 17, 2013 10:50 AM EST

There may be a new explanation for how well people do in social situations, whether it's in a bar or on Facebook: DNA. Researchers have recently found a gene sequence in fire ants that they have dubbed the "social chromosome."

The fire ant, Selenopsis invicta, is one of many species known for its stings. An invasive species in the U.S., this particular fire ant is known for its loose social structure. Some ants will tolerate many queens in a colony, while others will be loyal to only one queen. In order to find out why this is, researchers examined the fire ant's DNA.

They found that ants with differing chromosomes will make them more or less likely to accept multiple queens. Much like humans have sex chromosomes that vary between X and Y, ants have chromosomes that vary between B and b. The study found that if all workers carry only B, they will accept a single queen that carries the B variant. However, if some workers in the colony carry the b variant, the colony will accept multiple queens that also carry the b set.

How do ants tell which chromosomes a queen has? Researchers hypothesize that, in the case of fire ants, this acceptance has something to do with the way queens smell.

While the study isn't quite applicable to humans, it does show that once again DNA has a huge influence on behavior. The fire ants were more likely to get along with more individuals due to their particular chromosomes.

The study was published in the journal Nature on January 17, according to

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