Weaver ants use silk to construct their homes

December 30th, 2007 - 5:44 pm ICT by admin  

Sydney, Dec 30 (ANI): Researchers have shown that weaver ants in tropical Australia construct their homes from leaves and silk, by identifying the silk-producing genes in the creatures, as well as in bulldog ants, bumblebees and honeybees.

The baby ants, or larvae, extrude the white, lustrous thread, and the adult ants pick up the larvae and use them as silk-producing vessels to bind the leaves together.

Now a team at the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has identified the mechanism behind the ants ability to make silk.

“Most people are unaware that bees and ants produce silk, but they do,” the Sidney Morning Herald quoted lead researcher Tara Sutherland, a CSIRO entomologist, as saying.

By placing these ant and bee genes into bacteria or plants, it should be possible to create large amounts of the insect silk, which is light, but tough enough to make a bulletproof vest, she explained.

She also said that in due course it might also be possible to alter the production process so the synthetic silk had other desired properties, such as electrical conductance or ultraviolet resistance.

“My dream is to make fibres that can respond to the environment they are in. But that is a long way in the future, said Dr Sutherland.

She also said that ant and bee silk had an advantage over moth and spider silk as its molecular structure was different.

The team discovered that ant and bee silk is made up of small, coiled proteins, winding around each other.

However, she said that Moth and spider silk was, on the contrary, more like sheets of long spaghetti lying next to each other.

The ants and bees use their silk for different purposes. Bulldog ant larvae spin silk cocoons to protect pupae, the next developmental stage of the insect. Bumblebee larvae use their silk to make cocoons where pollen and honey are stored. Honeybee larvae strengthen the wax cells in which they pupate with silk.

Dr Sutherland said that the bees make large amounts of silk and “an older hive is about 40 per cent silk.”

The results of the study are published in the journal Molecular Biology And Evolution. (ANI)

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