Corey WilsonThursday,26 March 2015

I know we’re all worried. Ted Cruz will be a terrible president, and there’s totally enough stupid people to vote for him. So, before we begin, I’d like to apologize on behalf of Canadians everywhere. But at the same time, I’d like to assure Canadians everywhere that even though our dear southern friends are on the brink of destruction, scientists at McGill University have already been working on Canada’s defence.

Ants. They’re fucking everywhere: in your backyard; in your basements; statistically speaking, they’re in your bed right now. They’re the most successful species on the planet. It’s estimated that their biomass (the combined weight of every single living ant) is larger than humans (yes, they included your fat aunt Beth).

“Sorry, but ants aren’t going to save us from starving Americans and all their guns,” you might be saying.

Regular ants can’t, but genetically engineered supersoldier ants can.

What scientists from McGill found was that they can manipulate the size of carpenter ants (whose genetics are nearly identical to one another) by tampering with one single gene. The gene in question, Egfr (because scientists enjoy watching us laymen struggle with pronunciation) is responsible for the growth in ants, and in humans as well. Simply put: they could influence the growth rate and “create” Goliath ants or little David ants.

The researchers created giant ants by using the drug 5-AZA-dCytidine, which would discourage the methylation of the ant’s DNA. That process increased growth. They “sort of poured on” another drug, S-adensoyl methionine, which encourage methylation and therefore decreased growth.

“Methylation coats genes a whole bunch or a little less,” said Abouheif, a biology professor at McGill. “That acts like a dial.”

Fellow researcher, Sebastien Alvarado later said, “[…] when we saw a 10 percent change in size, we saw a 10 percent change in DNA methylation of [the Egfr] gene.”

How will this save Canadians from Señor Cruz? Well, previously they found that DNA methylation influenced the presence of certain traits in insects. Said previous research showed that dormant genetic traits can be summoned when the insect’s environment changes dramatically.

Traditionally, certain foods spur hormones that tell Pheidole ant larvae to develop into either solider or worker ants. McGill scientists found that an incredibly rare breed of the Pheidole ants (known as supersoldier ants, because they gotta let us pronounce some of the words), could be “engineered” simply by feeding the larvae with the juvenile hormone which provoked that dormant supersoldier trait.

At the time of the supersoldier research, Abouheif said, “So what we’re showing is that environmental stress is important for evolution because it can facilitate the development of novel phenotypes. Any time you have a mismatch between the normal environment of the organism and its genetic potential, you can release them—and these things can be locked in place for 30 to 65 million years.”

This is how we’re going to prevent the fallout from Monsieur Cruz’s presidency from seeping over the border: by genetically modifying supersoldier ants that’ll stand 30-feet tall (probably), patrol our borders (probably), and shoot laser canons (probably).

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Hat Tips:

CBC, New York University, YouTube, Image Credit: Flickr

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