Open Access Research article

Expressed sequence tags from Atta laevigata and identification of candidate genes for the control of pest leaf-cutting ants

Cynara M Rodovalho1, Milene Ferro1, Fernando PP Fonseca2, Erik A Antonio3, Ivan R Guilherme4, Flávio Henrique-Silva2 and Maurício Bacci1*

Author Affiliations

1 Center for the Study of Social Insects. Univ. Estadual Paulista, Av. 24A, 1515, Bela Vista, Rio Claro, São Paulo, Brazil

2 Department of Genetics and Evolution, Federal University of São Carlos, Via Washington Luis, Km 235, CP 676, São Carlos, São Paulo, Brazil

3 Department of Computer Science, Federal University of São Carlos, Via Washington Luis, Km 235, CP 676, São Carlos, São Paulo, Brazil

4 Department of Statistics, Applied Mathematics and Computation. Univ. Estadual Paulista, Av. 24A, 1515, Bela Vista, Rio Claro, São Paulo, Brazil

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:203  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-203

Published: 17 June 2011

Abstract

Background

Leafcutters are the highest evolved within Neotropical ants in the tribe Attini and model systems for studying caste formation, labor division and symbiosis with microorganisms. Some species of leafcutters are agricultural pests controlled by chemicals which affect other animals and accumulate in the environment. Aiming to provide genetic basis for the study of leafcutters and for the development of more specific and environmentally friendly methods for the control of pest leafcutters, we generated expressed sequence tag data from Atta laevigata, one of the pest ants with broad geographic distribution in South America.

Results

The analysis of the expressed sequence tags allowed us to characterize 2,006 unique sequences in Atta laevigata. Sixteen of these genes had a high number of transcripts and are likely positively selected for high level of gene expression, being responsible for three basic biological functions: energy conservation through redox reactions in mitochondria; cytoskeleton and muscle structuring; regulation of gene expression and metabolism. Based on leafcutters lifestyle and reports of genes involved in key processes of other social insects, we identified 146 sequences potential targets for controlling pest leafcutters. The targets are responsible for antixenobiosis, development and longevity, immunity, resistance to pathogens, pheromone function, cell signaling, behavior, polysaccharide metabolism and arginine kynase activity.

Conclusion

The generation and analysis of expressed sequence tags from Atta laevigata have provided important genetic basis for future studies on the biology of leaf-cutting ants and may contribute to the development of a more specific and environmentally friendly method for the control of agricultural pest leafcutters.