Professor Speaks on Fire Ant Research at International Conference

Dr. Patricia Pietrantonio speaking

Dr. Patricia Pietrantonio speaking to the group at the conference about her research. Submitted photo.

Dr. Patricia Pietrantonio, professor of Entomology at Texas A&M University, was the State-of-the-Art Speaker at the 29th Conference of European Comparative Endocrinologists (CECE), in August in Glasgow, Scotland.

Held every two years, the purpose of the CECE meeting is to share new ideas and network with other researchers interested in the field of endocrinology. Pietrantonio’s presentation was during the “Omics and the Physiology of Insect Neuropeptides” section.

Pietrantonio was invited by Professor Shireen Davis (University of Glasgow), the coordinator for nEUROSTRESSPEP. This Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme is funded by the European Commission and aims to discover novel control molecules for insect pests.

Her presentation was titled “Omics and the Physiology of a Superorganism: GPCR Signaling and Brain Transcriptomes of the Fire Ant (Solenopsis Invicta Buren): Toward Linking Nutrition and Reproduction”.

Pietrantonio discussed her ongoing research investigating the hormonal signaling in fire ants. Her lab uses various methodologies in physiology, cell biology, biochemistry, molecular biology and reverse genetics to address fundamental research questions on the physiology of the neuropeptide signaling in the invasive polygyne (multiple queen colonies) ants.

By finding differentially expressed genes in brains of virgin versus mated queens the Pietrantonio lab, in collaboration with Dr. Cecilia Tamborindeguy lab, aims to find candidate signaling genes controlling reproduction.

The research included in the presentation was published in the journal Ecology and Evolution. A second publication that will appear soon in the journal General and Comparative Endocrinology follows the comparative theme by identifying G protein-coupled receptors expressed in brains of fire ant queens versus those expressed in the brains of worker ants.

Pietrantonio said her research would help control the ants by targeting the genes that control and link reproduction and feeding status in queens.

“Fire ants are a pest in the lands they invade partially due to their high reproductive ability and their capacity to exploit numerous nutritional resources, so our research strives to find critical genes involved in signaling for both nutritional status and key aspects of reproduction that may be potential targets to disrupt the reproductive process in queens,” she said. “Colonies are complex organisms so understanding the gene networks in queens and workers is important to understand colony organization at the endocrine and molecular level. Selective insect hormone mimetics, synthetic molecules as receptor agonists or antagonists could disrupt these processes in these ants to our benefit”.

The research can also impact the understanding of the physiology of other hymenopteran insects in addition to fire ants, as the endocrinology of reproduction in honey bee queens is poorly understood.

“With respect to broader impacts, our research my also inform these processes in other hymenopterans, such as pollinators, and the neurobiology of insects in general,” Pietrantonio said.

Pietrantonio was honored by the invitation, and said the conference was a great networking experience as the presentation was well-received by the audience.

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