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Manuela: Queen of the ants

Manuela Andrea Beyer is often surrounded by ants. "Sometimes I feel like Ant-Man from the Marvel comics, even though I can't talk to my ants like he does," she says. Her fascination for the little crawlers awakened during her biology studies. At that time, she spent many hours in the forest collecting specimens for laboratory experiments. Today Manuela is doing research at the Institute of Organismic and Molecular Evolutionary Biology at the Gutenberg University Mainz. There she wants to find out how reproduction and division of labor are connected in an ant colony. Therefore she deals with the Clonal Raider Ant (Ooceraea biroi).

Unlike other ants, the colonies of this Asian species consist exclusively of workers. There is no queen. Regularly, all workers lay eggs and take over the brood-care together afterwards. They reproduce asexually by creating a kind of genetic clone of themselves. Despite identical genes, individual ants perform different tasks in the colony.

To understand the reproduction behavior of her ants, Manuela examines their ovaries, analyses genetic material and conducts various experiments. The right equipment is crucial here: "In a particular experiment it‘s necessary to collect several ants simultaneously at a certain point in time," she explains. "I was looking for a way to get the ants into the vessel quickly. The vials made by WHEATON® were perfect for that."

With her work Manuela wants to clarify how the reproductive division of labor once occurred in ants. But perhaps her research lays the foundation for even greater insights: "Hopefully one day we will understand how exactly social insects came into being."

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