mother knows best ? proteins, eusocial behavior and swarm intelligence

Polistes metricus

Polises metricus

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Altruism Evolved From Maternal Behavior, Wasp Genetics Study Suggests

ScienceDaily

University of Illinois and 454 Life Sciences researches “have used an innovative approach to reveal the molecular basis of altruistic behavior in wasps.

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“Like honey bee workers, wasp workers give up their reproductive capabilities and focus entirely on nurturing their larval siblings, a practice that seems to defy the Darwinian  prediction that a successful organism strives, above all else, to reproduce itself. Such behaviors are indicative of a eusocial society, in which some individuals lose, or sacrifice, their reproductive functions and instead work to benefit the larger group.

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“… Once a foundress has raised a first generation of workers, she turns over the task of nurturing the larvae to the workers and devotes herself entirely to her “queenly” reproductive function.

“At this point, the researchers discovered, behavioral gene expression in her brain changes, becoming distinct from that seen during her maternal period.

“. . . [researcher Amy] Toth noted that the P. metricus wasps represent a kind of intermediate stage in the evolution of eusocial behavior. The honey bee colony, in which queens never perform maternal tasks, is considered a more developed form of eusociality.

“‘In Polistes metricus wasps you have behavior that’s more similar to what you might see in a maternal ancestor,” Toth said. … ”

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” … the researchers were able to compare behavioral gene expression in the brains of foundresses, workers, queens and gynes. (Gynes perform no work within the colony. They start their own colonies the following spring.)

“‘We’ve pushed the boundaries a lot further than what has been done before,” [crop sciences professor ] Hudson said. “It’s been 100 to 150 million years since there was a common ancestor for paper wasps and honey bees, and during that time the DNA has changed a lot.” But the proteins encoded by those genes that are important to the behaviors the researchers studied changed very little, Hudson said. This allowed for robust comparisons between the behavior-related genes in both species, and identification of those genes in the wasps that were important to the study.” … (full article)

Image credit:  BugGuide

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Newcomb’s commentary: “”Discovery consists in seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought.” Albert Szent-Györgyi 

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