Our lab takes an integrative approach to understanding how socially exchanged fluids evolve and how they can be co-opted by evolution to influence physiology and behavior.
We use social insects as a model system because many (but not all!) social insects engage in the mouth-to-mouth fluid exchange behavior, trophallaxis. In species that do engage in this behavior, every individual in the colony is connected through this network of fluid exchange. The exchanged fluid is full of growth proteins, hormones, RNA and small molecules. Some of these components, when fed to larvae by trophallaxis, can influence development!
This provides a means for how social insect communities can collectively decide on the colony’s developmental progression by transmitted cues and signals over the social circulatory system.