A novel gene from the takeout family involved in termite trail-following behavior

Margaret A. Schwinghammer, Xuguo Zhou, Srinivas Kambhampati, Gary W. Bennett, Michael E. Scharf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


This study investigated physiological and behavioral functions of a novel gene identified from the termite Reticulitermes flavipes. The gene, named deviate, encodes an apparent ligand binding protein from the takeout-homologous family. Initial studies were conducted to investigate deviate mRNA expression among termite castes and body regions, and changes in response to light-dark conditions, starvation, temperature, and juvenile hormone (JH). Deviate has ubiquitous caste and tissue expression, including antennal expression. Consistent with characteristics of other takeout family members, deviate expression is responsive to photophase conditions (p< 0.1), and feeding, temperature, and JH (p< 0.05). Using RNA-interference (RNAi) techniques, short-interfering RNAs (siRNAs) homologous to the deviate gene were synthesized and injected into worker termites, which were then subjected to bioassays designed to (1) induce caste differentiation or (2) measure various behavioral aspects of foraging and trail following. No impacts on JH-dependent caste differentiation were observable. However, trail following accuracy was significantly reduced in termites that received deviate siRNA injections, and this pattern generally mirrored deviate mRNA attenuation and recovery after RNAi. In a subsequent distance foraging bioassay, deviate-silenced termites exhibited equal feeding levels to controls, suggesting the deviate gene is not linked to general vigor or the ability/motivation of termites to move and forage. These findings are among the first linking the expression of a termite gene with eusocial behavior; they illustrate the connection between deviate expression and trailing behavior, which is a key evolutionary adaptation vital to subterranean social insects such as termites and ants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-21
Number of pages10
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 15 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Jonathan Neal, Brian Schneider, and Matthew Tarver for helpful discussions, feedback and advice. This research was supported by the Center for Urban Pest Management at Purdue University and by CSREES-USDA-NRI grant No. 2007-35607-17777 to MES.


  • 2-phenoxyethanol
  • Behavioral gene
  • RNA interference
  • Takeout
  • Trail pheromone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics


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