Mathematical biology colloquium

Mathematical biology colloquium

September 9, 2014

Thursday, September 11 at 3:30 in VH1224, Ali Berens from Iowa State University’s Computational Biology program will be here to present her research on

Caste Determination Across Social Insects: An Interdisciplinary Approach. (abstract below)


Ali is also happy to meet with students about Iowa State’s Computational Biology program after her talk. Again, the talk is Thursday at 3:30 in VH1224. Please pass along to your students.


The presence of queens and workers defines eusocial insect societies and constitutes a spectacular example of biological complexity expressed as alternative phenotypes from a single genome. Given multiple origins of eusociality in Hymenoptera (bees, ants, and wasps), it has been proposed that caste phenotypes evolved convergently through common genetic “toolkits”. We take an interdisciplinary approach that combines computational and natural science fields to: 1) investigate the distinctive molecular mechanisms between paper wasp queen and worker castes and 2) perform a comparative analysis of caste determination among three major Hymenopteran social lineages by combining data from previously published studies on ants and bees with this new data for paper wasps. Paper wasps are an ideal system to study social evolution because they have flexible caste differences that are biased during early development via nutritional differences. We found that the vast majority of the differentially expressed genes between paper wasp castes are up-regulated in workers compared to queens. Across the three social lineages, we found few shared caste differentially expressed genes. However, there is substantially more overlap at the levels of pathways and biological functions. Thus, genetic toolkits appear to be relatively “loose”, i.e. different lineages converge on similar metabolic pathways and molecular functions but not on the exact same genes.  This talk highlights the interdisciplinary nature of the research with particular emphasis on describing methods for audience members from all science fields. Additionally, this talk indicates improvements needed for this cutting edge research and where future scientists could make a huge impact.