Blurred boundaries between society and individuality: using immunity to understand a major evolutionary transition
Speaker: Professor Dino McMahon, Freie Universität Berlin
Host: Line Vej Ugelvig, Ecology and Evolution
A fundamental yet seemingly contradictory aspect of biological individuals is their capacity to remain the same while changing through time. This self-regulatory ability is facilitated by a number of factors that are shared by all complex multicellular life-forms. One such essential trait is an effective immune system. Here, I use concepts of individuality and immunity to explore the blurred line between society and individual in termite “superorganisms”. I discuss our current understanding of the breadth and mechanistic underpinnings of collective immunity in termites, before going on to explore the evolution of the immune system during the transition from a cockroach-like ancestor to a fully-fledged termite society. I end by discussing the possibly crucial role played by immunity during the emergence of eusociality, and in transitions in organismal complexity generally.