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Science

Ants Turned Into 'Supersoldiers' 80

Posted by Soulskill
from the ok-science-we're-through dept.
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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Ants Turned Into 'Supersoldiers'

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  • by bonch (38532) * on Friday January 06, 2012 @06:01PM (#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.

    • by mrxak (727974)

      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.

      • It would be a travesty if some of the super soldiers escaped and bred a race of super ants... jk
        • by Synerg1y (2169962)

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

          • 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.
            • 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...

      • 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!

      • It wouldn't matter if they got free since soldiers do not reproduce.
      • by binkzz (779594)

        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).

      • by Ofloo (1378781)

        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?

    • Whoa! So you're saying, when God created the penis, he was thinking about wiggling, crawling super ants? Thanks, that explains a lot!
  • That can't be sensible, can it?

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

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      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.

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      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"?

  • THEM! (Score:4, Informative)

    by ackthpt (218170) on Friday January 06, 2012 @06:19PM (#38615290) Homepage Journal

    I saw a documentary about this! Watchit!

  • by msobkow (48369) on Friday January 06, 2012 @06:19PM (#38615292) Homepage Journal

    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.

    • by Brain-Fu (1274756)

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

      • by msobkow (48369)

        *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.

    • by mrxak (727974)

      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 o

      • by jamesh (87723)

        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"

    • by medv4380 (1604309)
      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.
      • by msobkow (48369)

        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 way

        • 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 th

      • by rev0lt (1950662)
        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.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      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

    • by jamesh (87723)

      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 intellig

    • 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.

  • 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...
  • by DrEldarion (114072) on Friday January 06, 2012 @06:24PM (#38615340)
    Someone call the Earth Defense Force [youtube.com].
  • Or ubercaste, as Nietzsche would have it?
    • Re:Subcaste (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JonySuede (1908576) on Friday January 06, 2012 @08:15PM (#38616880) Journal

      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.

  • by Ynot_82 (1023749) on Friday January 06, 2012 @06:45PM (#38615642)

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

    • Try browsing at a lower threshold. An overlords quote was the second post to the article.

    • by deego (587575)

      > 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.

    • I didn't think of the Simpsons... what first popped into my mind when reading this was "Captain Americant"
  • 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)
    • 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.

  • 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.
  • Ants and giant parts, I wonder if it's actually Hank Pym working in this lab?
  • They should make reality show about the luxurious life of the queen ant. I'd call it "The Hills".
  • by Polo (30659) * on Friday January 06, 2012 @09:37PM (#38617714) Homepage

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

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