Identification of a Major Gene Regulating Complex Social Behavior

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Science  11 Jan 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5553, pp. 328-332
DOI: 10.1126/science.1065247

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Colony queen number, a major feature of social organization in fire ants, is associated with worker genotypes at the gene Gp-9. We sequenced Gp-9 and found that it encodes a pheromone-binding protein, a crucial molecular component in chemical recognition of conspecifics. This suggests that differences in worker Gp-9 genotypes between social forms may cause differences in workers' abilities to recognize queens and regulate their numbers. Analyses of sequence evolution indicate that regulation of social organization by Gp-9 is conserved in South American fire ant species exhibiting social polymorphism and suggest that positive selection has driven the divergence between the alleles associated with alternate social organizations. This study demonstrates that single genes of major effect can underlie the expression of complex behaviors important in social evolution.

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