Scientists have finally unlocked the mysteries hidden deep inside the termite genome. The new research could spur scientific understanding of social insects, how they function and how they evolved in the first place.

For years, scientists have tried to understand the intricacies of social insects. While numerous secrets have already been uncovered, many mysteries still remain. To gain a deeper understanding regarding how these social insect species function, scientists have turned to genetics. By unraveling the termite genome, researchers are hoping that many of the gaps in knowledge regarding these social reactions can be filled. Researchers from the Arizona State University, with the help of numerous international scientists, have unraveled and decoded the termite genome. The team published its findings in the online journal Nature Communications.

"The analysis of the termite genome is crucial to improving our understanding of decisive steps in the evolution of insects, and also of the development of social insects," said Aix-Marseille University researcher Nicolas Terrapon. "Termites are, in contrast to bees and ants, quite original insects, and belong to the cockroaches. Our research will help us gain a better understanding of the evolution of insects in general." Terrapon is one of the lead authors of the study.

The decoding of the termite genome is an important development for numerous fields of study. However, the development is of particular interest to entomologists and specialists that study social insects Like ants and bees, termites are social creatures. Their lives depend and revolve around their colonies. Each individual insect is a single unit in a larger group and from birth, they play very specific roles all the way up until they die. Like many other social insects, termites are born into castes. There are worker termites, soldier termites and queen termites. Despite not being closely related to ants and bees on a genetic level, these insects seemed to have developed the same type of social structure in a brilliant feat of parallel evolution.

While there are numerous similarities between different social insects, the scientists also found a number of key differences. For one, Zootermopsis nevadensis (dampwood termites), certain types of genes related to maturing sperm are found in larger numbers when compared to several ant and bee species. Moreover, these genes can also be more active. Scientists believe that this is due to the fact that male termites can mate with queen termites several times over the course of their lifespans. In ants and bees however, the males die off soon after mating.

"Compared to the societies of mount building termites and the ant, bee and wasp societies, dampwood termites live in a piece of wood that they do not leave for foraging," Liebig said. "They have less of a need for sophisticated communication and discrimination of foreign individuals.

By unlocking the genome of one of the most prolific social insects on the planet, scientists hope to gain a deeper understanding regarding the mechanics of the evolution of eusociality in insects.

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