One of the great challenges to biology is understanding how genes are deployed during an organism's development to produce the astonishing variety of creatures on earth. A variety of biological phenomena can, if studied in detail, help us gain a better understanding of these genetic blueprints. One such phenomenon, morphological polymorphism, is widespread in nature, and has appeared independently in many different types of organisms. In ants, for example, depending on the environmental conditions an individual ant embryo experiences, it will either develop into a reproductive caste (male or a queen) with wings or develop into a sterile caste (worker or soldier) without wings. Where, when. and which genes are turned off or on during development to produce antomical differenes among siblings?
This study examines the genes involved in this morphological polymorphism in ants by integrating data from multiple biological levels and from multiple species. It will characterize the expression of several genes involved in wing development, cell growth, and hormonal regulation. The goals are to determine: (1) whether the genes involved in wing development are conserved in winged reproductive ants; (2) how the patterning, growth, and differentiation of wings in wingless non-reproductive ants is interrupted; and (3) whether the process of interruption in wingless non-reproductive ants has evolved. Understanding the genetic basis of this phenomenon will provide insights into the relationship between an organism's genes, the environment, and anatomy.