For years biologists have altered the genetics of organisms as varied as mice and rice. Mutant fruit flies are a laboratory staple. But ants' complex life cycle hampered efforts to grow genetically engineered ants — until now.
On Thursday, two independent research teams described their work deleting ant genes. Two papers chronicling the first mutant ants appeared in the journal Cell, along with a third study that altered ant behavior using an insect brain hormone.
Claude Desplan, a New York University biologist and an author of one of the studies, said that, as far as he could tell, these ants are "the first mutant in any social insect."
Ants have complex social roles, even though members of a colony are genetically very similar. Females may be egg-laying queens or sterile workers, colony cleaners or fierce soldiers.