COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Master’s candidate Paula Castillo’s research on fire ant neurochemistry and caste system has received her third place prize in the Junior Graduate Student category at a campuswide poster competition.
Castillo received the award during the Texas A&M Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience & Texas A&M Institute for Neuroscience’s 2013-2014 Poster Session at the Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Building on Wednesday, January 29.
The award was given for her poster titled “Differences in sNPF receptor-expressing neurons in brains of fire ant (Solenopsis invicta Buren) worker subcastes: indicators for division of labor and nutritional status?”
Castillo’s goal is to contribute to the general understanding of the ant’s biology and, specifically, how the brain regulates the ants’ behavior, nutrition and reproduction.
Castillo’s research looks at the neuronal and molecular mechanisms related to the divison of labor in worker fire ants (Solenopsis invicta Buren) and how they are performing different tasks loosely associated with their size. She is investigating that short neuropeptide F signaling system could be involved in mechanism of worker division of labor and sensing of the colony nutritional requirements.
The results from this study suggests that the short neuropeptide F signal system could be involved in regulating behaviors that are associated with the subcastes, including nutrient sensing and/or brood care, feeding and locomotion. Castillo said the knowledge obtained from the results would help in the future to develop newer, more efficient strategies in controlling the ants’ population and dispersal.
“I was really surprised, because the competition was hard, and all the topics of the posters presented were really interesting,” she said. “For me, it was an honor to obtain this recognition from the society of neurosciences of Texas A&M University.”
Castillo received her Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from the University of Santiago in Santiago, Chile.
“I am proud of Paula because there were 15 posters competing in her category (Junior scientist),” professor and Castillo’s principal investigator Dr. Patricia Pietrantonio said. “The award also reflects the recognition by the TAMU neurobiology community that the discovery in fire ants linking colony nutritional status with differential spatial localization of a neuropeptide receptor in the brain in worker subcastes is an important step towards understanding the control of nutrient-seeking or nutrient-sensing behaviors in social insects.”
Funding for this research was from grants NSF-IOS-1257837 and the Fire Ant Research and Management Project, Texas AgriLife Research, to Patricia V. Pietrantonio.
Castillo is currently enrolled in the M.S. Program in Entomology at TAMU.