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Biozentrum Lectures 2011

Evolution of a Social Chromosome in Ants

Laurent Keller, Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne
March 21, 2011, Time: 16:00, Hörsaal 1, Pharmazentrum, Klingelbergstrasse 50-70, Basel

In this talk I will discuss how interactions between genes and social environment influence behavior and social organization. In particular, I will show that, in ants, worker behavior and gene expression profiles are more strongly influenced by indirect effects associated with the genotypic composition of workers within their colony than by the direct effect of their own genotype. This constitutes an unusual example of an ‘extended phenotype’, and suggests a complex genetic architecture directly and indirectly influencing the individual behaviors that, in aggregate, produce an emergent colony-level phenotype. I will finally discuss how these gene by environment interactions underlie the presence of two distinct modes of social organization.

Dr. Laurent Keller is Professor of Evolutionary Ecology and Head of the Depart¬ment of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Lausanne. He is a leading expert on the evolution of social insects. His goal is to ‘understand the principles govern¬ing the evolution of animal societies and the ecological and evolutionary conse¬quences of social life’. To study these questions his research group combines the disciplines of animal behavior, ecology, evolutionary genetics and genomics as well as robotics. Laurent Keller has contributed to the study of the evolution of eusociality in ants with numerous scientific publications on topics including aging, genomics, kin recognition, sex ratios, cooperation, altruism, and communication. His contributions include over 180 scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals, invited talks and seminars, appearances in the media (Press, Radio and Television), book chapters in scientific textbooks, and several books including ‘The Lives of Ants’ published in 2009. Dr. Keller’s contributions to science have been recognized with many prestigious awards, inter alia the Latsis Prize (2000), the Prix Leenaards (2000), the E. O. Wilson Naturalist Prize (2005) and the EMBO Membership (2010).

Dr. Keller was born in 1961 and grew up in the French speaking part of Swit¬zerland. He accomplished his studies in biology at the University of Lausanne, where he also completed his Ph.D in zoology. For his post-doctoral studies he stayed at the Laboratory of Entomology of the University Paul-Sabatier in Tou¬louse, at the University of Lausanne and at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. Subsequently, he was nominated Associate Professor of Ecology at the University of Lausanne in 1996, where he later became Head of the Institute of Ecology (1998). In 2000, he was promoted to Full Professor of Evolutionary Ecology and Head of the Department of Ecology and Evolution, positions he has been holding since.