One Big, Smelly Family Decoding the Olfactory Receptors in the Indian Jumping Ant

Meeting Abstract

P2-113  Sunday, Jan. 5  One Big, Smelly Family: Decoding the Olfactory Receptors in the Indian Jumping Ant NAUGHTON, LF*; CANNIZZARO, DN; PASK, GM; Bucknell University; Bucknell University; Bucknell University

Eusocial insects exhibit complex social hierarchies in their colonies, and in order to achieve this high level of coordination, there must be an effective communication system. Insect olfactory receptors (ORs) in the antenna are able to distinguish between a vast array of odorants, and the detection of these minute chemical cues drives insect communication. The Indian jumping ant, Harpegnathos saltator, serves as an optimal model for studying social olfaction due to the complexity of behaviors associated with its primitively eusocial caste system. Previous studies have focused on decoding the rapidly evolving 9-exon subfamily of OR genes, but two-thirds of the entire family, which contains genes that are highly conserved across ant species, remains relatively unexplored. This research aims to characterize the pheromonal sensitivity of a selection of highly expressed H. saltator OR genes from across this expansive receptor family. In order to determine the response profile of an individual OR gene, we can genetically manipulate the fruit fly genome to express genes of interest and perform electrophysiological techniques to measure neuronal activity in response to various pheromones. This research displays the impressive discriminatory power of insect ORs in the presence of a myriad of chemical stimuli needed for complex communication. In addition, the breadth of stimuli and responses demonstrated in this study contributes to our understanding of the combinatorial code used in the ant olfactory system. These findings can be applied to the future study of social insects with topics including whether certain OR genes are conserved across other species of ants, and whether there exists an olfactory signature along the evolutionary path to complex eusociality.

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