Using powerful new tools, scientists compared some 1,500 stretches of DNA in 119 modern ant species. AFP PHOTO / ERIC FEFERBERG
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Ants cultivated designer crops in controlled environments millions of years before humans figured out how to push seeds into the ground to grow food, scientists reported in a study Wednesday. It has long been known that dozens of ants species tend and harvest fungi in subterranean farms, mostly to feed a colony's larvae.The new research shows for the first time that some ants transitioned to this more sophisticated level of farming about 30 million years ago, probably in response to a cooling and drying climate.Using powerful new tools, scientists compared some 1,500 stretches of DNA in 119 modern ant species, two-thirds of them farming ants.By identifying the nonfarming ant most closely related to the fungi-cultivating species, they were able to construct an evolutionary tree going back in time.
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