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K-State Today

September 29, 2011

Iowa State University biologist to give seminar Friday

By Gregory Zolnerowich

Amy Toth

The department of entomlogy and Arthropod Genomics Center are sponsoring a seminar by Amy Toth, assistant professor in the department of ecology, evolution and organismal biology at Iowa State University. Toth will present "Comparative genomic analysis of social behavior in bees and wasps," at 1:30 p.m. Friday in the Leadership Studies Building's Town Hall. Refreshments will follow in 129 Waters Hall.

Toth studies the evolution of sociality and mechanisms underlying complex social organization in insects. Her work focuses on eusocial colonies of bees and wasps, whose highly integrated societies exhibit a bewildering complexity of individual and colony-level behaviors. She uses an integrative research approach involving field studies of naturally occurring colonies, experimental manipulations in semi-natural or lab settings, and numerous lab techniques to measure physiological, chemical, and genetic characters of individual insects. The overarching goals of her research are to: gain insight into how complex social behavior can evolve from solitary behavior; understand the roles of conservation and convergence in the molecular basis of complex phenotypes; and use new genomic tools to empirically test long-standing ideas about the evolution of sociality.

Examples of ongoing projects include comparative transcriptomic analysis of honey bee and Polistes paper wasp behavior and caste differences, chemical and transcriptomic characterization of dominance hierarchies in Polistes paper wasps, and exploring the role of DNA methylation in caste differences across multiple social insect species at different levels of sociality.