Sunday 13 March 2016

More social insects have weaker immune response, highlights role of hygiene

Date: March 9, 2016
Source: North Carolina State University

Research from North Carolina State University finds that among eusocial insects -- like ants, bees and termites -- the more individuals there are in a typical species colony, the weaker the species' immune response. The finding strongly suggests that hygiene behaviors, and not just immune systems, play a key role in keeping eusocial insects healthy.

Eusocial insects live in groups. And living at close quarters with many other individuals would appear to increase their risk of contracting disease. Yet eusocial insects are incredibly successful, raising the question of how they are able to thrive.

The "social group hypothesis," argues that the eusocial lifestyle has given eusocial insects stronger immune systems. A second hypothesis, the "relaxed selection hypothesis," argues that eusocial insects have evolved specific behaviors that reduce the risk of disease transmission.

"We wanted to test the social group hypothesis to see which of these hypotheses was accurate," says Margarita López-Uribe, a postdoctoral researcher at NC State and lead author of a paper on the work.

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