How do working wasps balance specialization and plasticity

Individual wasps on their nest. Credit: Sulene Batalano

An international team of biologists and theoretical physicists from Dresden (Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems), Cambridge, UK (Pabraham Institute) and Athens (BSRC “Alexander Fleming”) has addressed this paradox using experiments on paper wasps. Paper wasps are social insects that exhibit a societal division of labour, with some insects specializing in foraging and other tasks (workers) while a single insect becomes the queen who specializes in producing offspring.

While this division of labor remains stable throughout its life queenWhen the queen is removed from the nest or dies, the remaining female workers can quickly change their behavior and create a new queen. Because of this behavior, paper wasps serve as an experimental testing ground for studying biological plasticity.

during field trips To the hornets’ original habitat in Panama, the scientists conducted experiments where they removed the queen from the nest communities, then measured how the remaining workers reestablished a new queen.






Computer vision analysis of global nest movement. attributed to him: cell systems (2022). DOI: 10.1016 / j.cels.2022.08.002

In these experiments, the research combined various experimental tools such as video recordings and detailed molecular profiling of insect brains to simultaneously follow this process on vastly different spatial scales of biological organization in order to investigate the interplay between molecular processes and community interactions.

“Use social insects The study of plasticity has given us a unique opportunity to link molecular, individual and societal processes over time at the level of individual insects, which is not possible when studying cells in mammalian tissues, says Dr. Solin Batalano, who conducted the experiments.

rise of kings;  How do working wasps balance specialization and plasticity

Feed resting on a sheet. Credit: Sulene Batalano

By using the theory, researchers led by Dr. Stephen Rowlands have decoupled the various processes that led to the creation of a stable society and the ability of workers to create a new queen. they found it paper wasps Balancing the expression of genes that establish queen-like behavior with aggressive combat that suppresses the same genes.

Their calculations showed that this enables these communities to distinguish between different types of disturbance affecting the nest: internal disturbances affect insects independently of each other and are actively suppressed by the community. External disturbances affect the whole society and society interacts in a plastic way.

“It is fascinating to see how these societies have been able to bring together processes that occur on scales of space apart to overcome the apparent contradiction,” says Adolfo Alsina, who conducted the theoretical work. The insights gained from social insects may be applied in the future to understanding plasticity in others biological systemssuch as reprogramming cells into stem cells in regenerative therapies.

The search was published in cell systems.


In the duel of ants that compete to become queen, behavioral and molecular cues quickly determine who will win


more information:
Soleen Batalano et al., Self-regulation of plasticity and specialization in a primitive social insect, cell systems (2022). DOI: 10.1016 / j.cels.2022.08.002

Submitted by Alexander Fleming Biomedical Research Center

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