15.01.2018, MPI-CE Seminar
Adria LeBoeuf
(Department of Physics and Complex Systems, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel)
"The Superorganism’s circulatory system: Collective control of development through socially transmitted fluids"
15.01.2018, 15:00 h
Seminarraum (Schleiden/Stahl) MPI für chemische Ökologie, Hans-Knöll-Straße 8, 07745 Jena

Like any growing organism, a superorganism must assess and distribute resources to grow and develop optimally given its available means. How has evolution engineered distributed decision-making mechanisms for long-term collective processes? While a multicellular organism has a circulatory system to coordinate between cells, a superorganismal community of individuals must actively distribute resources, signals and cues. Social insects frequently engage in oral fluid exchange–trophallaxis–wherein they pass the contents of their social stomach(s) between adults, and between adults and larvae in a behavior that links every member of the colony. Using mass spectrometry and small RNA sequencing, I analysed the contents of trophallactic fluid in the ant Camponotus floridanus. I discovered that developmental regulators including juvenile hormone are passed socially to larvae in this fluid and can influence their development. Phyloproteomic comparison of trophallactic fluid across two other ants and the honey bee revealed that approximately one-third of socially transmitted proteins are regulators of growth and development. Specifically, we find a clade of juvenile-hormone processing enzymes in the genus Camponotus undergoing neofunctionalization as they take on a role in this socially transmitted fluid. By observing both development and the social exchange of fluids between queen ants and their larvae through a novel combination of computer vision and fluorescent microscopy we quantitatively observe how this fluid directs growth. Together, these results suggest that trophallaxis underlies a private communication channel that can have multiple phenotypic consequences including direction of larval development, and provide a new mechanism for how social insect colonies regulate community development through collective decision-making over the social network.

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