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REVIEW: Ants as Object of Gerontological Research

G. A. Shilovsky1,2,3,a,b*, T. S. Putyatina2, V. V. Ashapkin1, A. A. Rozina1, V. A. Lyubetsky3, E. P. Minina1, I. B. Bychkovskaia4, A. V. Markov2, and V. P. Skulachev1

1Belozersky Institute of Physico-Chemical Biology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, 119991 Moscow, Russia

2Lomonosov Moscow State University, Faculty of Biology, 119234 Moscow, Russia

3Institute for Information Transmission Problems, Russian Academy of Sciences, 127051 Moscow, Russia

4Nikiforov Center of Emergency and Radiation Medicine of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Control, 194044 St. Petersburg, Russia

* To whom correspondence should be addressed.

Received September 4, 2018; Revision received September 18, 2018
Social insects with identical genotype that form castes with radically different lifespans are a promising model system for studying the mechanisms underlying longevity. The main direction of progressive evolution of social insects, in particular, ants, is the development of the social way of life inextricably linked with the increase in the colony size. Only in a large colony, it is possible to have a developed polyethism, create large food reserves, and actively regulate the nest microclimate. The lifespan of ants hugely varies among genetically similar queens, workers (unproductive females), and males. The main advantage of studies on insects is the determinism of ontogenetic processes, with a single genome leading to completely different lifespans in different castes. This high degree of determinacy is precisely the reason why some researchers (incorrectly) call a colony of ants the “superorganism”, emphasizing the fact that during the development, depending on the community needs, ants can switch their ontogenetic programs, which influences their social roles, ability to learn (i.e., the brain [mushroom-like body] plasticity), and, respectively, the spectrum of tasks performed by a given individual. It has been shown that in many types of food behavior, older ants surpass young ones in both performing the tasks and transferring the experience. The balance between the need to reduce the “cost” of non-breeding individuals (short lifespan and small size of workers) and the benefit from experienced long-lived workers possessing useful skills (large size and “non-aging”) apparently determines the differences in the lifespan and aging rate of workers in different species of ants. A large spectrum of rigidly determined ontogenetic trajectories in different castes with identical genomes and the possibility of comparison between “evolutionarily advanced” and “primitive” subfamilies (e.g., Formicinae and Ponerinae) make ants an attractive object in the studies of both normal aging and effects of anti-aging drugs.
KEY WORDS: lifespan, aging, ants, biological evolution, phenoptosis

DOI: 10.1134/S0006297918120076