In mythology, the chimera is a hybrid of different animals. Biologists use the term to describe an organism made up of genetically different cells. Such creatures are the males of the yellow spider ant, as researchers at the University of Mainz have discovered. The Asian species is very aggressive and can overwhelm even larger prey with its formic acid.
In their study, the scientists showed that male ants carry either the paternal or maternal genetic material in their cells, but never the chromosome sets of both parents, as is the case with human body cells. In contrast to what is usually the case with ants, the males develop from fertilized eggs – however, the paternal and maternal cell nuclei do not merge, but divide independently of each other. Queens and workers, in turn, arise from eggs in which the kernels fuse. Whether it becomes a worker or a queen is decided by the genetic information of the male sperm. The mechanism that controls the merger is still unclear.
Chimerism also occurs in other animals, for example, corals and monkfish. Here, different individuals can merge into one. The phenomenon even exists in humans, as the Mainz zoologists write: During development, the mother and fetus exchange a small number of cells, so the baby carries some cells with the same genetic material as the mother. Such tiny genetic transfers are also possible between twins. However, according to the researchers, the fact that a chimera arises from a single fertilized egg, as in the case of the spider ant, is unique.