Elucidation of molecular mechanisms of sophisticated social systems in insects


Social insects have evolved sophisticated social organization in their colony. In our study, we are focusing on ants and aphids to clarify molecular mechanisms of their highly specialized biological functions to maintain and control the social systems. These studies using such unique animals are expected to discover novel biological phenomena and functions, bioactive substances, and lead compounds for medical drugs etc.

(1) Molecular mechanisms of caste differentiation, social behavior and insect-plant interactions in social aphids.

In some aphids, altruistic individuals known as “soldiers” are found in their colonies like bees, ants and termites. Among about 5,000 aphid species recorded in the world, more than 80 species are known to be social. Their primary social role is colony defense, but soldiers in some species also perform nest labors, such as gall cleaning and repairing. Soldiers and reproductive individuals are genetically identical clones produced by parthenogenesis, but their morphology, reproductivity and behavior are totally different because of their caste-specific gene expression patterns. We are focusing on soldier aphids to elucidate molecular mechanisms of caste differentiation and social behaviors in aphids. We are also interested in aphid-plant interactions, such as gall formation by social aphids. Also see our publications.

(2) Regulatory mechanisms of social behavior in ants

Social animals live in groups with other members. With social ants, our goal is to understand the relationship between our health, longevity, and social environment with utilizing the behavior tracking system, omics analysis, and molecular biology.

Social insects live in the social organization called colony, with complex social hierarchy composed from reproductive queens, males and non-reproductive female workers. In matured colony, workers have another sociality called division of labor in worker castes. Workers perform nursing when they are young, and shift their job to foraging when they get old. They also can flexibly change their job depending on the demand in their colony. We focus on their sophisticated social organization and study the molecular mechanisms to regulate their behavior, physiology and longevity in social environment. See here for the details.