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Ants Turned Into 'Supersoldiers'

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the ok-science-we're-through dept.

Science 80

New submitter jmcdougald.esq sends word that a team of researchers from McGill University has tinkered with the development of a type of ant to produce what they call a 'supersoldier' subcaste — ants that are much larger than average workers but only appear naturally in a few species (abstract). The team's work showed that by exposing the ant larvae to a hormone-like chemical, they could induce 'supersoldier' growth in many more species. "This result suggests that supersoldiers existed in the common ancestor of the entire genus. Even though the supersoldier subcaste eventually disappeared in most species, the ants kept the potential to make it. Because the same hormone sets the fate of both supersoldiers and soldiers, it may not have been possible to completely lose one without compromising the other. ... In some species that evolved later, such as Pheidole obtusospinosa, the supersoldiers became a permanent addition. Whereas most Pheidole species simply evacuate their nests when army ants invade, for some reason P. obtusospinosa find it beneficial to stay, which makes supersoldiers a useful addition to the community."

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80 comments

Ants with giant freaking heads (5, Interesting)

bonch (38532) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615116)

Ants rule. This is the coolest article Slashdot has published all week. Just look at these things. [imgur.com] They're oversized, phallic monsters of doom with giant fuck-off heads. Unfortunately, it's hard to find out more about this ancient caste of ant because all the Google results right now are about this story, and there's no "History of ants" article on Wikipedia. But check out Martialis heureka [sciencedaily.com] , a newly discovered species in the Amazon that may represent the oldest living lineage of ants today.

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38615396)

I wonder if the supersoldier ants bully the regular workers.

It would figure.

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (2)

mrxak (727974) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615422)

I agree, this is very cool. I do worry about these induced supersoldiers getting free, but I think the risk is minimal of that. Perhaps nonexistent if the ants themselves don't know how to unlock the special caste anymore, which would seem to be the case.

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38615564)

As with fire ants and killer bees, it would suck if this became a standard mutation for a species of ants, which caused it to push out all the other species in an area.

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (5, Informative)

mrxak (727974) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615592)

But the thing is, it's not really a mutation. The genes are there, they're just being switched on, artificially, at a specific stage in development. These supersoldiers don't reproduce. If they did get out of the lab, they'd live their normal livespan and die, and there'd be no more supersoldiers.

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616010)

Hm... this could be the genetic version of preparing for war.

I mean, very nearly every human has the potential to be a soldier if only they train and physically condition themselves. Ants seemed to have developed a sort of "DEFCON" gene, where when things go bad they start pumping out super-soldiers.

We as humans are essentially the same way IMO. The spawning of super soldier ants can be seen as when we create a special operations force to fill a need. No one would want to fuck with a super soldier ant, just like no one would want to fuck with Delta Force or the SAS.

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (1)

mrxak (727974) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616840)

I'm by no means an entomologist, so it's possible this is already being studied or has been studied extensively, but I'd be really very curious to understand the mechanism among the species that do produce these supersoldiers (and for that matter regular soldiers) to regulate their numbers. Do the numbers of these soldiers increase at certain times, and how do the worker ants feeding the larvae or whatever decide to give them the extra hormones or special food? Is there a steady percentage of the population with these traits, or do they ramp up the numbers under certain conditions?

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (1)

ralphdaugherty (225648) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616274)

I can't believe this has to be explained to everyone and many still don't get it. Your post should be first post readers see, actually should be appended to TFS.

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (1)

mrxak (727974) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616752)

Well, a lot of slashdot readers don't get past the headline, which while sort of accurate is intended to elicit Simpsons quotes and anti-GMO reactions to fuel more discussion and ad-hits.

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38617738)

That's what Monsanto said when they frigged sound with genetics. You don't work for them do you?

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (2)

bonch (38532) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615618)

According to the article, they occasionally appear naturally, particularly in well-nourished colonies, leaving open the possibility of nature reselecting it as an evolutionary advantage.

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (2)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615852)

It would be a travesty if some of the super soldiers escaped and bred a race of super ants... jk

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (2)

Synerg1y (2169962) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616234)

They can't bread, but it's already happened w the bees, so :)

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (2)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | more than 2 years ago | (#38617328)

Yah, my joke was that the soldiers don't breed. But do tell me more about what happened with the bees. I have not heard of that.

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (2)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 2 years ago | (#38619648)

I'm guessing he means Africanized ("Killer") honeybees. Though in that case, some schmuck let 26 queens loose, so it wasn't the drones or workers doing the mating...

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38621616)

They can't bread, but it's already happened w the bees, so :)

Bees make bread now?

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (1)

CSMoran (1577071) | more than 2 years ago | (#38638618)

They can't bread, but it's already happened w the bees, so :)

Bees make bread now?

He explicitly said they can't.

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38618250)

but I think the risk is minimal of that. Perhaps nonexistent if the ants themselves don't know how to unlock the special caste anymore, which would seem to be the case.

How dare you subvert the most irritating kneejerk reaction on all of Slashdot! Bow before your unimaginative snowclone masters!

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (2)

binkzz (779594) | more than 2 years ago | (#38620116)

I do worry about these induced supersoldiers getting free,

Well, the article states that super soldiers are disappearing among a lot of ant species. Probably because they no longer increase the chance of survival. So if these do get out, they would most likely not survive very long. Apart from that, unless they release a supersoldier making queen, they won't be able to reproduce anyway. (cue Jurassic park theme song).

Re:Ants with giant freaking heads (1)

Ofloo (1378781) | more than 2 years ago | (#38620370)

Aren't they natural occurring species, hell they could get anywhere by plane or car or whatever they could travel along with us in many ways. This isn't a lab breath species, .. point is they are already out there what are you worrying about?

i for one (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38615138)

welcome our insectoid overlords

Re:i for one (1)

maiki (857449) | more than 2 years ago | (#38617320)

define "unsurprising irony": when the most apt usage of the "i for one" meme in the history of Slashdot get's modded -1

When did Anubis start working at McGill? (0)

sconeu (64226) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615254)

I think we should file this under the "what could possibly go wrong" department.

Re:When did Anubis start working at McGill? (2)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615320)

I think we should file this under the "what could possibly go wrong" department.

Anubis was brought in by Professor O. Siris.

Yep. Don't let them out. The Argentine Ant is a big enough problem already and they're tiny little inoccuous ants, but can have over 100,000 per colony.

Re:When did Anubis start working at McGill? (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616186)

I think we should file this under the "what could possibly go wrong" department.

Even if it goes right, it goes wrong.

Does the world really need "supersoldiers"?

In completely unrelated news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38615272)

In completely unrelated news, stock for SC Johnson, the company that produces Raid insecticide unexpectedly went up today...

Re:In completely unrelated news... (1)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615342)

Interesting, since they're family owned and aren't sold on a stock exchange.

Re:In completely unrelated news... (1)

orphiuchus (1146483) | more than 2 years ago | (#38620182)

Yea, you take that anonymous coward obviously telling a joke! Get your facts straight or get the fuck out!

You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (4, Insightful)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615292)

Do you realize that cancer is actually caused by the rogue and uncontrolled triggering of cellular growth that normally results in healing?

The fetus still goes through stages of growth that trace back to our evolution, a nine-month fast replay of evolution as the zygote develops into a viable organism.

The concept of genetic engineering is not scary because of the "risk" of GMO fields infecting natural genetics, but because of the few psychopaths who would like to use such technology to "eliminate disease." Who's to say a "disease" is not the first step of the next stage of evolution? The brilliance of many people I've met with ADHD and various levels of autism disorders are a key example -- they're not SUCCESSFUL adaptations yet, but I believe they're the beginnings of an evolution of a greater intelligence than the typical modern human.

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38615440)

i just want to eliminate niggers and jews

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (1)

bonch (38532) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615454)

I have to disagree. I think humanity is getting dumber both due to in increased dependence on technology for its collective intelligence as well an increase in the spread of lazy misinformation through that technology. Evolution doesn't necessarily favor intelligence; it just favors whatever survives.

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (1)

orphiuchus (1146483) | more than 2 years ago | (#38620166)

And once survival becomes too easy, evolution simply rewards whoever breeds the most.

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (1)

Brain-Fu (1274756) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615484)

Yes, I am smarter than HEY check out the huge head on that ant!

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (1)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#38617498)

*LOL*

The people I knew were on medication to control the ADHD, but it didn't take away from their above-average skills and intelligence.

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (1)

mrxak (727974) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615560)

I think widespread genetic tinkering with the human genome will have several pressures involved. There's the parents who say "I want my baby to be normal" and the parents who say "I want my baby to be special."

In the first category, you'll have pressure to eliminate stuff like autism or ADHD as you mention, but the second category is perhaps enough to balance that out. Those parents who might induce autistic-like conditions to make their child smarter in certain ways, or entirely new conditions that don't occur naturally that hold possibilities we can't fathom. As long as these new variations don't preclude successful mating with "normal" humans, the species will become more diverse, with more potential for evolution, not the other way around.

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 2 years ago | (#38617190)

parents who say "I want my baby to be special."

If we get enough parents who read superhero comics in their childhood, we'll end up with more diversity than we ever imagined...

"Thinking of having a baby? We have a special on the Spiderman package this month!"

"Studies have shown that our Catwoman genepack will help your child be more successful"

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (1)

medv4380 (1604309) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615578)

You have a point. However, if the disease is crippling and ends up resulting in nonviable offspring like Cystic fibrosis then I see no harm in parents who have the risk of having a child with it going and doing IVF and only choosing the offspring that don't have it for conception. Some genetic diseases like Cycle Cell have advantages, but it would be bad to assume that all genetic diseases can result in a benefit.

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (1)

emuls (1926384) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615882)

You obviously know fuck-all about Cystic Fibrosis. Let me help you get started:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cystic_fibrosis [wikipedia.org]

I think if you were to ask anyone with CF whether or not they would consider themselves "viable offspring" you would probably get punched.

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (1)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#38617540)

Now there's thorny topic for anyone who has a fundamental disagreement with abortion. To them, killing a fetus is immoral no matter what the reasoning. And as the uncle of a boy who is autistic, I must admit I would hate to have seen my sister have him killed when he failed the genetic screening.

I don't believe in abortion as birth control at all. It needs to be available to deal with cases of rape and occasionally to save the mother's life, but that's where I draw the line. There are far better ways to manage population growth than abortion.

If you were stupid enough to get pregnant because you didn't take precautions, either put the child up for adoption or raise it yourself. Your life may be a living hell as a single mom, but you've brought that on yourself.

Lord knows there is no shortage of clinics and outreach groups providing free condoms.

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (1)

Spugglefink (1041680) | more than 2 years ago | (#38625156)

Lord knows there is no shortage of clinics and outreach groups providing free condoms.

I don't really disagree with the spirit of your post there, but dumping it all on free condoms as the solution to every reproductive mishap is pretty naive. Ever had a condom break, even though it was fresh, and you stored and used it correctly? I have. The result of that unplanned event is 18 years old now. Did you ever read the fine print where they say The Pill is only 90-something-percent effective? I think it's 98% or maybe even 99%, but we fell into that 1-2% margin of error, and the result of that one is 14 years old now.

Birth control isn't completely reliable. They even made us sign a disclaimer that the sterilization surgery could spontaneously reverse itself, and basically after the first 10 years it's a crap shoot all over again. There was no question in our mind 18 years ago that we would get married and raise the baby, and abortion never even entered the discussion. Now that we have gray hair, bad joints, and we've been broke for almost 20 years, what would we do if we fell into the margin of error again, and she turned up pregnant?

I hope I never have to face that question.

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (1)

rev0lt (1950662) | more than 2 years ago | (#38617854)

The big problem with your reasoning is, no doctor can guarantee that your child will be healthy and disease-free. And sometimes, you even get some false positives.

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616742)

The fetus still goes through stages of growth that trace back to our evolution, a nine-month fast replay of evolution as the zygote develops into a viable organism.

This is not quite right; Haekel's Recapitulation theory has been rather thoroughly refuted.

Who's to say a "disease" is not the first step of the next stage of evolution? The brilliance of many people I've met with ADHD and various levels of autism disorders are a key example -- they're not SUCCESSFUL adaptations yet, but I believe they're the beginnings of an evolution of a greater intelligence than the typical modern human.

The link between savantism and autism is fairly well established, as is the link between artistic genius and schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorder. The fact that persons with atypical neurology of this type occasionally exhibit extraordinary inventiveness, creativity or insight in some areas may well account for a non-trivial portion of human cultural and technological evolution. Some of the greatest innovators have been linked with one or more of these conditions, albeit tenuously in many cases; some claim Isaac Newton may well have had Asperger's and John Nash is known to have been schizophrenic. That said, the relatively low incidence of persons with these traits in our population is probably an indicator of the reproductive and other trade-offs that usually come with their enhanced (if very narrowly focused) cognitive function. To say that they are the beginning of a new stage of evolution is questionable at least and also seems to imply that evolution has a "goal", which is completely unjustifiable. To say that the genetic traits that lead to occasional brilliance are low-incidence but fairly stable in the population is probably more accurate, and also more accurately characterizes the "sport" nature of these variations. Their unique traits do give some advantages, but they often come with crippling disadvantages. Although the jury is still out on group vs. individual selection, cases like these lend a bit of credence to the group side, if one considers that an occasional genius can boost his/her clan's chances of survival and reproduction by inventing something revolutionary like an atlatl, and that the odd person in a clan with ADHD is more likely to be looking around during any given activity and stands a marginally better chance of spotting the approaching predator or enemy group.

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 2 years ago | (#38617052)

The concept of genetic engineering is not scary because of the "risk" of GMO fields infecting natural genetics, but because of the few psychopaths who would like to use such technology to "eliminate disease." Who's to say a "disease" is not the first step of the next stage of evolution?

The cool thing here is that, according to the article at least, they aren't actually modifying genes anywhere, just introducing a hormone to activate genes on a one-off basis. Take away the hormone and everything is back to normal.

The next step, correcting the evolved corruption in the DNA that prevents the hive from releasing the hormone, wouldn't be too hard though.

The brilliance of many people I've met with ADHD and various levels of autism disorders are a key example -- they're not SUCCESSFUL adaptations yet, but I believe they're the beginnings of an evolution of a greater intelligence than the typical modern human.

There are a large number of stupid people with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders too... autism doesn't automatically equal increased intelligence, although I suspect that ASD is a fairly general term for a number of things that appear on the surface to be similar but have vastly different underlying causes.

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (1)

TrekkieGod (627867) | more than 2 years ago | (#38619288)

The concept of genetic engineering is not scary because of the "risk" of GMO fields infecting natural genetics, but because of the few psychopaths who would like to use such technology to "eliminate disease." Who's to say a "disease" is not the first step of the next stage of evolution?

Who cares? Natural mutations are random and undirected. Pressure from the environment directs evolution, but that makes organisms better suited to survive in their environment, not necessarily better by all measures. For example, bats evolved their sonar system, but took a step back and lost their vision.

We're evolved high intelligence now. We can do a better job than nature in directing our own evolution. No need to ever take a step back, just decide where we want to go and work towards that goal.

Re:You'd be surprised what's locked in OUR genome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38621240)

The fetus still goes through stages of growth that trace back to our evolution, a nine-month fast replay of evolution as the zygote develops into a viable organism.

Nope!

Obligatory Simpsons quote (1)

jonfullmer (781361) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615316)

One thing's for certain, there is no stopping them. The ants...will soon be here.

And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords...

Subcaste (1)

dadioflex (854298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615544)

Or ubercaste, as Nietzsche would have it?

Re:Subcaste (4, Interesting)

JonySuede (1908576) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616880)

the ubercast Nietzsche is talking about is not the one the Nazi understood...

From Beyond good and evil:

What we nowadays call a “nation” in Europe is essentially more a res facta [something made] than a res nata [something born] (indeed sometimes it looks confusingly like a res ficta et picta [something made up and unreal]—), in any case something developing, young, easily adjusted, not yet a race, to say nothing of aere perennius [more enduring than bronze], as is the Jewish type. But these “nations” should be very wary of every hot-headed competition and enmity! That the Jews, if they wanted to—or if people were to force them, as the anti-Semites seem to want to do—could even now become predominant, in fact, quite literally gain mastery over Europe, is certain; that they are not working and planning for that is equally certain. Meanwhile by contrast they desire and wish––even with a certain insistence—to be absorbed into and assimilated by Europe. They thirst to be finally established somewhere or other, allowed, respected, and to bring to an end their nomadic life, to the “Wandering Jew.” And people should pay full attention to this tendency and impulse (which in itself perhaps even expresses a moderating of Jewish instincts) and accommodate it. And for this, it might perhaps be useful and reasonable to expel the anti-Semitic ranters out of the country.

22 comments in.... (4, Funny)

Ynot_82 (1023749) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615642)

...and not a single Simpson's overlords quote
Slashdot, what's happened to you?

Re:22 comments in.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616226)

I for one welcome our "I for one welcome our new (fill in the blank) overlord" comments...

Re:22 comments in.... (1)

deego (587575) | more than 2 years ago | (#38617408)

> 22 comments in.... (Score:3, Interesting)
>...and not a single Simpson's overlords quote
> Slashdot, what's happened to you?

Look, it's not that bad. Look carefully, and it finds mention, right at the 23rd comment.

Re:22 comments in.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38619294)

Old meme is old and tired.

Re:22 comments in.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38622756)

It doesn't matter. This is the most applicable post ever for that comment. Also, that comment existed before stuff like it was refereed to memes.

Ok lets fuck that up too. (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615744)

What can possibly go wrong with tinkering with the most abundant insect species on the planet. A species which was recently discovered to be acting as if it was a huge, planet-wide global hive - despite they were continents apart, by the way. (story was on slashdot)

Re:Ok lets fuck that up too. (1)

Overly Critical Guy (663429) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616738)

The ants weren't acting as a global hive, per se. They were just genetically related and so didn't attack each other in experiments, and so technically counted as members of the same colony.

Re:Ok lets fuck that up too. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38618380)

Yes what could possibly go wrong with a process that cannot be recreated by the ants themselves, but has to be done by human intervention at the larval stage of development. The ants have not had their DNA changed in any way. The have had a chemical added that effected the way they grew "in the womb." The closest equivalant we would have for humans is for the reaction that some medications have had on the fetus of expectant human females. Even if those babies were to develop the ability to fly, it wouldn't be passed on to their children because it is not a genetic mutation.

Makes sense (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | more than 2 years ago | (#38615912)

If an ant army invades another ant colony they have huge soldiers to protect it, its not really an invasion. Its high protein free room service.

New Reality Show? (1)

teknx (2547472) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616988)

They should make reality show about the luxurious life of the queen ant. I'd call it "The Hills".

Finally! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38617704)

After all these years, I finally start to understand the whole concept behind blaster master's opening video www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vb8b02474FM&t=6s

Thank you Slashdot!

Try Humans next? (2)

Polo (30659) | more than 2 years ago | (#38617714)

Does it work in humans? We need to catch up with our video game characters.

Re:Try Humans next? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38620246)

Aren't there enough supersized humans?

Re:Try Humans next? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38622246)

About 2 percent of difference exists between humans and very primitive sea worms (sorry no reference for this, it's something I remember reading at one point about 5 years ago). So I'd say there is something like a 98% chance that it would work (yeah right!).

The main issue would be to satisfy all the gestative requirements for the gene to activate without termination.

Re:Try Humans next? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38622362)

Oops, key work omitted. 2 percent of genetic difference in genes. Maybe that alters the chances quite a bit.

Sleep train *brainwashing sigal* your ticket to... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38618680)

What's next, lizards with detachable Fleshlight tails?

How about humans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38620312)

Can Homo Sapiens be exposed to chemical X and presto have superhuman strength?

sound quality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38620382)

audio sounds like a 4bit sample to me on that video

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