Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Wasps’ brains enlarge as they perform more demanding jobs

16.03.2004


Scientists have known for some time that some social insects undergo dramatic behavioral changes as they mature, and now a research team has found that the brains of a wasp species correspondingly enlarge as the creatures engage in more complex tasks.



"The amount of change is striking," said Sean O’Donnell, a University of Washington associate professor of psychology and lead author of a new study published in the February issue of Neuroscience Letters. "It is easily apparent with magnification."

O’Donnell said the changes take place in sections of the brain called the mushroom bodies. There is one mushroom body on top of each hemisphere of the wasp brain and the structures have a superficial resemblance to the cerebrum in humans and other vertebrates, he said. The enlargement was centered in a part of the mushroom body called the calyx where neural connections are made.


O’Donnell and other researchers study social insects such as wasps, honeybees and ants as models to understand the role of neuroplasticity in driving complex social behaviors such as the division of labor.

The wasps he studied, Polybia aequatorialis, live in colonies of 2,000 or more workers and the adults undergo striking behavioral changes as they age. They perform different jobs for the colony in a developmental sequence. Workers begin contributing to a colony by performing tasks in the interior of the nest before later moving on to jobs on the nest exterior. Finally, they leave the nest to forage for food and building materials.

O’Donnell and his colleagues from the University of Texas, Austin, found that the mushroom bodies of the wasps progressively increased in size through this sequence. The largest increase came when the insects first switched from working inside to working outside of the nest.

"What is happening is that the complexity of the tasks the insects engage in is increasing," O’Donnell said. "They are going from living in a very constrained spatial area with dim light to working outside the nest where there is a complex sensory environment with higher light levels. Finally, they have to leave the nest to forage for materials and then locate their way home to the nest."

He said social insects have relatively large mushroom bodies compared to solitary insects, such as butterflies or roaches, suggesting that these brain structures play a special role in regulating social behavior.

"This is important because social insects are among the most ecologically successful animals and their impact is huge," O’Donnell said. "They are pollinators, decomposers, predators and herbivores. The biomass of ants alone roughly equals that of humans. Social insects are successful because of their social complexity and division of labor. We are trying to get a handle on how such complex behaviors are driven."

The next step for the researchers involves marking workers on the first day of life and inserting them into colonies to look at the development of neural plasticity. They intend to work with Polybia again, as well as with a primitive social wasp that lives in colonies of several dozen workers, in a comparative analysis to see how neural plasticity evolved.

Co-authors of the study funded by the National Science Foundation are Theresa Jones, a UT associate professor of psychology, and Nicole Donlan, a research technician who also is at UT.


For more information, contact O’Donnell at 206-543-2315 or sodonnel@u.washington.edu

Joel Schwarz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Enduring cold temperatures alters fat cell epigenetics
19.04.2018 | University of Tokyo

nachricht Full of hot air and proud of it
18.04.2018 | University of Pittsburgh

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

Im Focus: Basel researchers succeed in cultivating cartilage from stem cells

Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.

Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...

Im Focus: Like a wedge in a hinge

Researchers lay groundwork to tailor drugs for new targets in cancer therapy

In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...

Im Focus: The Future of Ultrafast Solid-State Physics

In an article that appears in the journal “Review of Modern Physics”, researchers at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (LAP) assess the current state of the field of ultrafast physics and consider its implications for future technologies.

Physicists can now control light in both time and space with hitherto unimagined precision. This is particularly true for the ability to generate ultrashort...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Diamond-like carbon is formed differently to what was believed -- machine learning enables development of new model

19.04.2018 | Materials Sciences

Electromagnetic wizardry: Wireless power transfer enhanced by backward signal

19.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Ultrafast electron oscillation and dephasing monitored by attosecond light source

19.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>