Scientists unravel the secret of the abnormally long lifespan of some ants


Ants are perhaps one of the most interesting insects in terms of their abilities. They are able to enslave other ant species, heal trees, and even change the size of their brains. But that’s not all. Indian jumping ants can change their lifespan. Normal workers live for about three months, but their queen is able to live and lay eggs for more than three years. That is, its life expectancy is about 500% higher than that of ordinary ants. But, the most interesting thing is that absolutely any worker ant can take the “throne” after the death of the old queen. That is, theoretically, any Indian jumping ant can significantly increase its lifespan. Although, in order to become a queen, he needs to defeat the other ants of his colony in a large-scale battle. But how does the ant manage to slow down the aging process? It seems that scientists have finally managed to find the answer to this question, and it will surely surprise you.


Indian jumping ants increase their lifespan by 500%

How insulin increases life expectancy

According to scientists, the lifespan of an ant increases only when it is in the status of a queen. That is, if you take the queen and transplant it to another colony, where there is already a ruler, then she will become a worker ant, and will live no longer than the rest of the colony.

To find out why some ants can live much longer than others, despite the fact that they are exactly the same from birth, you need to pay attention to their lifestyle. This is exactly what the scientists did. The difference between queens (it is more correct to call them pseudo-queens, or gamergates) from other ants is that they do not work, but only lay eggs.

The strongest ant who wins the fights becomes the queen

But in order to lay eggs in large numbers, the ant needs to consume a huge amount of food. Therefore, queens do only two things – eat and lay eggs. And they eat most of the time. And in order to cope with an incredible amount of food for an ant, it has to increase the production of insulin, which ensures the delivery of glucose to cells.

However, insulin is known to have some side effects. In particular, it activates the AKT signaling pathway, which is involved in many cellular processes, including even metabolism. At the same time, scientists have long known that the ACT signaling pathway is also associated with the aging process and even age-related diseases. In other words, insulin indirectly accelerates the aging process.

But how is it, because aging in Indian ants is slowing down, not accelerating? At first glance, this really defies logic. But, as the researchers report in the journal Science, the reason for the longevity of ants may be associated with the Imp-L2 protein, which begins to be actively synthesized when insulin levels in the blood rise.

Indian ant produces a protein that blocks the aging process

Scientists have figured out how to extend life?

In their study, the scientists took tissue samples from pseudo-kings and common worker ants for analysis. At the same time, they paid the most attention to tissues that are involved in metabolism and reproduction. These include the brain, ovaries, fat body (similar to our liver) and fat.

Using bulk RNA sequencing, the researchers were able to find out which proteins are synthesized in the above tissue samples. RNA carries the genetic instructions for how to build proteins. This information is sent from the “command center” to the site that subsequently synthesizes the protein.

By studying the RNA instructions of different ants, the scientists found that pseudo-queens synthesize much more insulin in the brain, as well as more fat and vitellogenin. The latter is the precursor of the egg yolk. Basically all resources are used for oviposition. However, part of the fat is used to produce a certain pheromone. Interestingly, this pheromone, or rather its absence in the nest after the death of the pseudo-queen, encourages ants to hold “tournaments” for the right to be the next pseudo-queen.

Perhaps in the future it will be possible to slow down the aging process in humans

When the ant’s ovaries begin to receive more resources, they actively grow and develop, which allows them to lay eggs. However, ovarian development does not start on its own. As the authors of the work note, insulin activates the MAPK signaling pathway, which in turn triggers the process of ovarian maturation. As the reproductive organs begin to develop, they produce the Imp-L2 protein, which blocks the Akt signaling pathway. In fact, this protein blocks the aging process.

In the near future, scientists are going to study the effect of the Imp-L2 protein on other insects, such as the fruit fly. And eventually, research will be conducted with the participation of mammals. It is quite possible that in a similar way it is possible to extend the life of people. After all, according to some scientists, the life expectancy of people can be increased to at least 130 years.

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