Preliminary proposal: Social evolutionary systems biology: the integration of

Grants and Contracts Details


Background Social evolution theory has strongly influenced evolutionary biology and ecology by revealing the diverse ways that social behaviors (mutualism, altruism, and selfishness) can shape trait evolution and the eventual ecological success of a species in a given niche. At the same time, in practice, social evolution theory has been largely non-genetic and has only minimally informed the recent flood of sociogenomic data concerning the evolutionary genetic underpinnings of social phenotypes. Instead, sociogenomic studies have mainly been motivated by concepts from evo-devo, such as the “genetic toolkit”, which, while intuitively appealing, do not provide quantitative predictions about the social evolutionary process or about the genetic architecture of social traits. Intellectual Merit The proposed research develops theory to model the evolution of gene regulatory networks (GRNs) underlying social interactions (e.g., social signal production and response). Secondly, the proposed research harnesses publicly available and forthcoming transcriptomic datasets from bacteria and social insects to test the predictions concerning the structure and evolution of gene regulatory networks underlying social traits. While systems biology commonly studies the dynamics of biological networks, it rarely studies either how GRNs interact among whole individuals or the evolution of network interactions themselves. The proposed research will fill these gaps by integrating social evolutionary theory with systems biology. Using this integrated approach will provide specific testable predictions for the explosion of sociogenomic data, which is especially timely given ongoing discussions about the theoretical and empirical utility and the correctness of conceptual frameworks in social evolution. Broader Impacts Using material associated with and derived from the proposed research, the PI/lab groups will actively engage in three teaching and outreach programs. First, the Linksvayer lab has initiated a collaboration with the Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy (SLA; a magnet public high school that mirrors Philadelphia’s demographic) and The Franklin Institute to develop a new program, Early Access to Graduate Research (EAGR). EAGR’s goal is to create project-based, inquiry-driven modules based on cutting-edge research at UPenn that will be developed for classes at SLA and can then be broadly disseminated to local Philadelphia schools and beyond. Second, the PI/lab groups will actively engage in UPenn’s Community Science/Professional Development programs that have two goals: to increase the biology training of local high school teachers through accredited professional development sessions, and to expose the teachers and high school students to research-based lab modules and to the possibility of careers in science. Third, the Van Cleve lab group will build a science mentorship program connecting the University of Kentucky (UK) and the STEAM Academy, a public high school in Lexington, KY, with open enrollment via lottery. This program will feature a unique emphasis on assessment based on social network and exploratory data analysis approaches develop by Van Cleve and colleagues (Andris et al. submitted). 1
Effective start/end date5/1/156/30/17


  • National Academy of Sciences: $50,000.00


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