University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Behaviour, Ecology & Evolution Seminar Series > Oral transfer of chemical cues, growth proteins and hormones: crowdsourcing development in social insects

Oral transfer of chemical cues, growth proteins and hormones: crowdsourcing development in social insects

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Social insects frequently engage in oral fluid exchange – trophallaxis – between adults, and between adults and larvae. Although trophallaxis is widely considered a mode of food-sharing, we hypothesized that endogenous components of this fluid might underlie a novel means of chemical communication between colony members. Through protein and small-molecule mass spectrometry and RNA sequencing, we found that trophallactic fluid in the ant Camponotus floridanus contains a set of specific digestion- and non-digestion related proteins, as well as hydrocarbons, microRNAs, and Juvenile Hormone, an important developmental regulator. When C. floridanus workers’ food was supplemented with this hormone, the larvae they reared via trophallaxis were twice as likely to complete metamorphosis and became larger workers. Comparison of trophallactic fluid proteins across social insect species revealed that many are regulators of growth, development and behavioral maturation. These results suggest that trophallaxis may play a role in communication and enable communal control of colony phenotypes.

This talk is part of the Behaviour, Ecology & Evolution Seminar Series series.

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