Neuropeptide Receptors and Identification of Genes in Signaling Networks Involved in Reproduction and Nutrition in the Red Imported Fire Ant
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Red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta Buren) populations invaded the U.S. from Argentina and are expanding worldwide. Their success is in part due to the high reproductive ability of fire ant queens and the species aggressive behavior. Red imported fire ant queens have the privilege of reproductive ability and years of longevity while most females in the colony become non-reproductive individuals (workers). This project advances physiology, endocrinology and neurobiology of social insects by studying reproduction in fire ant colonies with multiple queens, the most abundant social form in the US. Little is known about fire ant reproduction. Limited knowledge is available on key neuropeptide receptors (e.g., short neuropeptide F (sNPF) and insulin-like peptides), which likely regulate gene networks involved in queen ovarian development and/or egg maturation, and/or sensing their nutritional status. The project will focus on immunolocalization of sNPF and insulin receptors and on evaluating the physiological consequences of silencing their genes by transcriptome analysis and RNA interference (RNAi) experiments with queens and workers.The broader impacts of the project include both social and educational benefits. Millions of dollars are lost annually only in the U.S. to control these invasive ants, in quarantines, or in damage repairs. The discoveries from this project offer potential for novel ant control. Knowledge on the physiological mechanisms by which queens sense their nutritional status, reproduce and how task allocation is determined in worker ants will help recuperate productive land, parks, and pastures currently lost to fire ant invasions worldwide. Additionally, the PIs are female Hispanics at Texas A&M University. A Ph.D. student and a post-doctoral trainee will participate in the project. Acknowledging the need for scientists to effectively communicate the significance of research to the public, the post-doc and students (grad and undergraduate) will develop scientific content and materials for distribution in English and Spanish. The research team will collaborate with EarthSky (Austin, TX) for mentoring students on script writing of scientific content and production of radio, video and TV programming for broad audiences. The latter will be broadcasted by the Hispanic TV network Univision. The PIs are mentors for Research Experiences for Undergraduates currently supported by the NSF through the Department of Entomology EXCITE program and this project will incorporate an REU-NSF student for a summer program. The PI teaches courses in Graduate Insect Physiology and Insect Toxicology and project findings will impact these graduate courses content. Findings from the research will also be published in peer reviewed journals and presented at scientific conferences.