Any fan of Captain America in the last 10 or 15 years knows that Captain America was created as a “Super Soldier.” We’ve seen lots of variations on that theme. Some of them are downright creepy, like Warren Ellis’ take on the Russian Super Soldier program in Ultimate Nightmare.
Well, here’s a little something to give you a nightmare, too: Super Soldier Ants.
It seems some species of ants develop a super soldier subcaste with enormous heads who fight off enemy ants. What’s more interesting is that the development takes place when specific genes are activated. And, these ancestral genes occur in many more species of ants, but lie dormant. Now, some of the geeks in lab coats have figured out how to activate those dormant ancestral genes in other ant species, creating super soldiers in those species, too.
Holy $#%@! It’s an insect super soldier program! Call Nick Fury!
You can read a layman’s version of the article on Physorg.com or go right to the source article from this month’s issue of Science.
Ancestral Developmental Potential Facilitates Parallel Evolution in Ant, Science 6 January 2012: Vol. 335 no. 6064 pp. 79-82.
ABSTRACT : Complex worker caste systems have contributed to the evolutionary success of advanced ant societies; however, little is known about the developmental processes underlying their origin and evolution. We combined hormonal manipulation, gene expression, and phylogenetic analyses with field observations to understand how novel worker subcastes evolve. We uncovered an ancestral developmental potential to produce a “supersoldier” subcaste that has been actualized at least two times independently in the hyperdiverse ant genus Pheidole. This potential has been retained and can be environmentally induced throughout the genus. Therefore, the retention and induction of this potential have facilitated the parallel evolution of supersoldiers through a process known as genetic accommodation. The recurrent induction of ancestral developmental potential may facilitate the adaptive and parallel evolution of phenotypes.