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Rice wins $5m to probe social evolution using latest genetic tools

HOUSTON, Sept. 24, 2003 -- A new National Science Foundation program taking on grand challenges in biological research has awarded $5 million to a Rice University-led team of biologists who will use the latest techniques of modern molecular genetics and large-scale genomics to study the causes, mechanisms and effects of social evolution.

Rice evolutionary biologists David Queller and Joan Strassmann are teaming with geneticists and developmental biologists from Baylor College of Medicine on the five-year project, with approximately half of the funds going to each institution.

The project brings together expertise in genomics and social evolution to provide the most thorough understanding yet of the genetic basis and evolutionary history of complex social behavior. It is one of just six inaugural projects unveiled in today's launch of the NSF's Frontier's in Integrated Biological Research program.

"Some of the most significant transitions in evolution -- the emergence of chromosomes, cells, eukaryotes and multicellular organisms -- occurred when formerly separate entities overcame conflicts and merged into a greater whole," said Queller, principal investigator on the project. "So it's clear that understanding social evolution is central to understanding the very structure of life, and yet very little has been done to apply the modern tools of genetics and genomics to the study of social evolution."

To apply those methods, Queller and colleagues are using the single-celled social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum as the model organism for their experiments. A favorite model system among developmental and cell biologists, social amoebae are an excellent system for studying social evolution because they work collectively to form colonies. Though the cells in these colonies cooperate, prior studies by Queller and Strassmann have shown how groups of amoebae that contain dissimilar genes compete within the colony to gain a reproductive advanta
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Contact: Jade Boyd
jadeboyd@rice.edu
713-348-6778
Rice University
24-Sep-2003


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