Award winner of the Fonds Nature et technologies —
PhD student in Biology at McGill University
Published in Science, January 2012, Vol. 335 no. 6064 pp. 79-82
“Complex worker caste systems have contributed to the evolutionary success of advanced ant societies; however, little is known about the developmental processes underlying their origin and evolution. We combined hormonal manipulation, gene expression, and phylogenetic analyses with field observations to understand how novel worker subcastes evolve. We uncovered an ancestral developmental potential to produce a “supersoldier” subcaste that has been actualized at least two times independently in the hyperdiverse ant genus Pheidole. This potential has been retained and can be environmentally induced throughout the genus. Therefore, the retention and induction of this potential have facilitated the parallel evolution of supersoldiers through a process known as genetic accommodation. The recurrent induction of ancestral developmental potential may facilitate the adaptive and parallel evolution of phenotypes.”
This work may contribute to medicine and biodiversity conservation. For instance, these findings compel us to understand the extent to which the environment may have in activating hidden ancestral genes that may lead to the onset of diseases like cancer. In addition, can climate change (like global warming) lead to the activation of ancestral traits that may be beneficial or detrimental to the survival of a species? This question has not been answered yet.