How far would you go to extend your life by 500%? An ant species engages in brutal colony-wide brawls to replace recently deceased queens – and the victors not only take the throne, but greatly extend their lifespans.
After the death of the queen, Indian jumping ants (Harpegnathos Jumper) compete to see which worker will take the queen’s place. Winning the laurels doesn’t just mean laying eggs – it also means living 500% longer than the average worker. Now, scientists may have identified how a replacement queen bee slows down aging.
The secret lies in a protein called Imp-L2, which counteracts some of the effects of insulin in replacement queens, according to a new study published Thursday (September 1) in the journal. science (opens in new tab).
In general, hormones insulin help directly from circulatory system Enter the battery, where it can be used as fuel. Alternative Queens — officially known as Pseudo-Queens or GamerGate, which means “married worker” in Greek, not GamerGate, the misogynistic online harassment campaign — have to boost their insulin production in response to the fact that they have to consume a lot of food. “If you want to make eggs, you need a lot of insulin because you eat a lot,” co-senior author Claude Desplan, a professor of biology and neuroscience at NYU, told Live Science.
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Although necessary, this influx of insulin should theoretically be accompanied by a problem: In addition to helping sugar get into cells, insulin triggers a number of molecular chain reactions, some of which contribute to the aging process. Specifically, the “Akt signaling pathway” — which is involved in many cellular functions from metabolism to cell survival — can be activated by insulin and has long been linked to aging and age-related diseases.
So, if a pseudoqueen starts to secrete a lot of insulin, she should theoretically age faster than the average worker ant, because the worker ants don’t produce as much hormones. “In the case of these ants, however, the opposite was true,” Desplan said. The average lifespan of a typical worker ant is close to eight months, while the average lifespan of a pseudoqueen is about three years and three months. “This is a huge increase in lifespan,” he said.
Interestingly, if a pseudo-queen were placed in a different colony with an established ruler, she would revert to being a regular worker, Desplan said. These former pseudo-queens, known as “responders,” lived a lifespan similar to that of workers. Somehow, only queens and pseudo-queens, despite their insulin, survived for years on end.
To resolve this apparent paradox, Desplan teamed up with his longtime collaborator Danny Reinberg, a professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
their team from H. Jumper Workers, Responders, and Pseudo-Queens, focusing on tissues involved in metabolism and reproduction.These include brainovary, fat body, a human-like organ liver and fat (fat).using a technique called batching RNA After sequencing, the team analyzed which proteins were built in the sample tissue.molecular cousin of DNARNA carries genetic instructions on how to build proteins, transporting these blueprints from the cell’s command center to one of the cell’s protein-building sites.
By looking at these RNA instructions, the team found that the fake queens produced more insulin in the brain and started producing more fat and vitellogenin (a precursor to egg yolk) in the fat body, compared to workers and responders. Some of these resources from the fat body are transported to the ovaries to support egg laying, while some fat is used to make a unique pheromone that only queens and dummy queens can emit. (The disappearance of this pheromone in the hive prompts the worker ants to duel after the queen dies.)
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As false queens produce more insulin, their ovaries grow and develop so they can carry eggs. Insulin directs ovarian maturation through the “MAPK signaling pathway,” another chain of chemical reactions that can be triggered by insulin. At the same time, the ovaries produced Imp-L2, which essentially blocks the Akt signaling pathway that could otherwise cause the pseudoqueen to age rapidly, the team found.
The team determined that Imp-L2 secreted by the ovary also enters the fat body and provides anti-aging protection to the organ.
“Two major branches of the insulin signaling pathway” — MAPK and Akt — “appear to be differentially regulated by fertility and longevity, with an increase in one signal contributing to the reproduction of false queens, and a decrease in the other signal extending its lifespan consistent,” Reinberg said in a statement (opens in new tab).
Desplan told Live Science that the next step for the team will be to understand how Imp-L2 blocks only the aging-related pathways, not the reproductive ones. They plan to study the role of the insulin-blocking protein in other insects, including fruit flies, and then eventually in mammals.
“We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen,” Desplan said. “Flies and ants are not exactly alike.” It’s harder to predict whether the anti-aging benefits Imp-L2 conferred on Indian jumping ants would carry over to non-insect animals such as mammals, he said.
Originally published on Live Science.