Strassmann’s work investigates cooperative alliances that have occurred at several important steps in the evolution of life, and have proven evolutionarily and ecologically very successful. Studying how these alliances came to be, how conflicts are subsumed into cooperation, what conflicts remain, and how they influence sociality comprise her dominant research interests.
Genes inherited from mothers (matrigenes) and fathers (patrigenes) usually work harmoniously in the offspring. However, kin selection theory predicts these genes may be in conflict in interactions among relatives in which they are unequally represented (half-siblings). In honey bees, patrigenes are predicted to favor daughters that lay eggs themselves rather than remaining sterile and rearing their half-sisters’ offspring. An experimental test bears out this prediction.
What is it with cheating? Cheaters seem to have an immediate advantage over cooperators, but do they have an evolutionary advantage? A study published in Current Biology suggests the benefits of cheating change with its prevalence,in a population. Cheaters may succeed, for example, only when they are rare, and fail when they become so numerous they push out cooperators.
Biology researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are placing their bets on the wild side as they prepare a pack of social amoeba for competition Friday, May 16, in the first-ever Dicty World Race, an international science competition that carries a $5,000 prize for the single-celled organism deemed to be the “smartest and fastest” in negotiating a microscopic maze.
Biologist Joan E. Strassmann, PhD, was installed Jan. 23 as the Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences in a ceremony in Holmes Lounge. Following the formal installation, Strassmann gave an entertaining talk about a high-stakes gamble she and Queller made 15 years ago: to switch from studying cooperation and conflict in social insects, famous for their complex societal arrangements, to studying it in an amoeba, whose claim to fame had been its simple lifestyle.