Termite royalty may protect your homes from damage

November 14th, 2007 - 10:28 am ICT by admin  

The researchers say that termite colonies are divided into two main castes-workers that build and feed the nest, and a royal elite of kings and queens whose only role is to reproduce.

It has been scientists’ belief that environmental factors like food and scent signals determine which of these groups’ termite eggs mature into.

However, Australian and Japanese research published today in the journal Science suggests that genetics plays a key role in the process.

Researchers from the University of Sydney and Ibaraki University studied the destructive termite species Reticulitermes speratus. They mated worker termites with kings and queens.

All the offspring were raised in exactly the same environment, but each of the different parent combinations resulted in specific mixtures of castes and sexes in their offspring.

“If environment caste determination was true, then we would expect all the offspring from each of the crosses to be the same combinations,” News in Science quoted Dr. Nathan Lo of the University of Sydney, as saying.

The study revealed that mating the royals gave rise to workers, whereas the worker matings, which happen rarely under normal circumstances, appeared to be needed to produce the royals.

“In the British monarchy, for example, royals give rise to royals, but in the case of the termites you have this kind of symmetry. The only way you can explain it is by a genetic mechanism,” he says.

According to the researchers, their study points to a possible gene on the termite X chromosome, dubbed by the researchers ‘worker’.

They say that just like humans, termites have X and Y chromosomes that determine their gender. While females have two X chromosomes, males have an X and a Y.

“It’s really the first step in understanding how caste is determined. Previous to our work, nobody had any idea of how it worked,” Lo says.

He believes that the new findings may help scientists better understand how to prevent the damage termites can cause to buildings.

“Eventually we hope that we’ll be able to find very specific compounds that could make the colony produce a high percentage of royals. That would cause a collapse of the colony, because these royals just sit around doing nothing and waiting to be fed. They’re pretty much useless when it comes to hard work,” he says. (ANI)

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