Graham ThompsonWestern Science
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My lab studies the biological basis of insect social behaviour; how it evolves, how it is maintained and why some species are social while others are not. Much like human societies, eusocial ants, bees, wasps and termites show bewildering complexity in how their societies are structured. Yet for insects, this complexity is derived from an economically simple division of labour into reproductive and non-reproductive specialists. Studying reproductive division of labour in insects at the level of the gene can provide key insights into how complex social systems evolved from simpler, ancestral ones. Studies on social insects can also help understand how our own societies might naturally mediate conflict, cooperation, altruism and spite. My lab uses natural history information from insects, the theory of social evolution and state-of-the-art gene technology imported from the medical sciences to discover how molecules influence the evolution and expression of social traits. Conversely, we are interested in how sociality itself influences the transmission and expression of genes. Within this theme, my lab tackles four broad questions:

1) What are genes for altruism, and how do they evolve?
2) How do genes or individuals regulate each other within dense networks ?
3) How do social animals evolve from non-social ancestries?
4) What are the genetic causes and consequences of social invasions?