CEM Seminar- Sylvia Cremer

Disease Defence in Insect Societies

Professor
Institute of Science and Technology, Austria
Disease defense in Insect Societies
 
Infectious disease can easily spread through the interaction networks of social hosts. Yet, the organizational immunity hypothesis proposes that social insect colonies are organized in a way to reduce disease transmission and thus the risk of epidemics in their colonies. It is expected, (i) that the inherent colony sub-structuring into different communities hinders pathogen spread towards the most valuable colony member, the queen, and (ii) that changes in the social interaction network upon colony infection should further impede disease transmission. We test this hypothesis in ants by observing whole-colony interactions before and after pathogen exposure, and analyze how the behavioral changes of colony members affect pathogen transmission through the colony. 
 
Sylvia Cremer is an Evolutionary Biologist interested in behavioral ecology and evolutionary immunology in ant societies. With her team, she studies individual and collective anti-pathogen defenses of ants, by a combination of behavioral observations, physiological and molecular measures of immunity, and chemical analyses. Colonies of social insects, like other societies, face the problem of a high risk of disease transmission among the group members. This is primarily due to close interactions and high within colony densities. Despite this risk, epidemics occur extremely rarely in the colonies of social insects (e.g. bees, ants, termites), as they have evolved collective anti-pathogen defenses that complement the individual immune systems of group members. This "social immunity" comprises a) hygiene behaviors, such as mutual allogrooming, b) joint physiological defenses, as the production and application of antimicrobial substances and c) the modulation of interaction types and frequencies upon exposure of group members to pathogens.
 
The Cremer group studies all aspects of social immune defenses in ants to learn more about disease management and epidemiology in societies.