News / Science & Technology

Study of Ants Could Yield Answers to Big Questions

Study of Ants Could Bring Answers to Big Questionsi
X
June 20, 2014 9:15 PM
Scientists have always been fascinated with the high level of organization in ant societies -- from building life-saving rafts during floods to the way colonies choose their next queen. New technology has helped advance researchers' understanding, but there is still a lot to be discovered, as VOA’s George Putic reports.
George Putic
Scientists have always been fascinated with the high level of organization in ant societies -- from building life-saving rafts during floods to the way colonies choose their next queen.  New technology has helped advance researchers' understanding, but there is still a lot to be discovered.
 
Fire ants living in Brazilian forests are perfectly adapted to an environment prone to flooding.  To save themselves from drowning, they lock their legs together, creating floating rafts, up to 20 centimeters wide.
 
According to mechanical engineer David Hu, ants know how to interlock tightly.
 
“If you can imagine you have a hundred ants, which means 600 legs. Ninety-nine percent of those legs will be connected to a neighbor so they're very, very good at maintaining that network,” he said
 
To discover the secret of their engineering, Hu and his colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology froze ant rafts and then analyzed them with a CT scanner.
 
They found out that larger ants serve as hubs to which smaller ants hold, forming pockets of air that keep them afloat.
 
Scientists say small robots or advanced materials that can configure themselves could be programmed in a similar way, working toward a shared goal.
 
At North Carolina State University, researchers study how Indian jumping ants choose the leader of the colony when they lose their queen.
 
Researcher Clint Penick says ordinary worker ants, which are all females, start tournament-style battles.  After color-coding the ants for easier observation, Penick's team noticed that some workers became physically more dominant,  and that triggered the release of certain hormones.
 
“Within a matter of days what we see is changes in dopamine in the brain that we think are linked to the reproduction that starts in these workers,” he said.
 
Soon, the winning ant starts developing ovaries for the production of eggs while its brain decreases in size, devoting all its energy to reproduction.  It begins standing taller and its life span becomes three times longer.
 
Scientists say this behavior and the release of neural hormones are prompted by genetic instructions.  They say these new findings may help researchers better understand the correlation between hormones and genes in humans.

You May Like

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Video One Year After Massacre, Iraq’s Yazidis a Broken People

Minority community still recovering from devastating assault by IS militants which spurred massive outrage More

‘Malvertisements’ Undermine Internet Trust

Hackers increasingly prey on users' trust of major websites to delivery malicious software More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs