I work with Dr Seth Barribeau looking at the innate immune response in different species of Hymenoptera, with a particular focus on bees. Sociality, and its more extreme form, eusociality, has independently evolved multiple times within Hymenoptera. Though there are many benefits to social living, it also has many drawbacks. Insect communities consist of dozens to millions of genetically similar individuals packed into dense interconnected communities which make them perfect pathogen breeding grounds. As such, it was expected that social animals such as the honeybee would have a robust suite of immunological genes in comparison to other insect species that live solitary lives. The invertebrate immune response is most understood in Dipteran species, and much of what we assume about Hymenopteran health has been determined by orthologous comparison. However, when the honeybee genome was sequenced it was found that they had a restrained immune gene repertoire in comparison to model species such as Drosophila spp. Though social hygiene behaviour could have perhaps explained this reduction in individual immunity, this same restricted immune gene set has also been identified in solitary bee species, suggesting there may be Hymenoptera-specific mechanisms that have thus far been overlooked.
My project uses molecular techniques, bioinformatics and comparative genomics/transcriptomics to attempt to elucidate the relationship between immunity and sociality across Hymenoptera.