"The genetic tools and simplicity of sociality in social amoebae make it easier to study the processes of cooperation and conflict that also operate in other organisms," said Strassmann.
The social evolution project has four goals. First, it will uncover the genes and molecular pathways underlying sociality. Second, it will probe the evolutionary history of these genes. For example, the research will test whether social forces create significant evolutionary pressures, and it will demonstrate the social function of ancestral genes by recreating them and testing them in vivo. Third, the project will generate experimental evidence for how opportunistic, non-altruistic behavior is controlled, a process that was essential in the major evolutionary transitions noted above.
Finally, the knowledge gained in the lab will be used to understand how social evolution works in the wild.
Rice's portion of the grant will fund a number of postdoctoral researchers, graduate students and undergraduate researchers in Queller and Strassmann's research group. It will also fund a portion of the project's outreach initiatives, which include the development of an educational Web site and partnerships to recruit and train students from high-minority schools, including the University of Houston-Downtown and local public schools.
Queller and Strassmann are professors of ecology and evolutionary biology. Baylor co-principal investigators include Adam Kuspa, professor of developmental biology; Gad Shaulsky, assistant professor of molecular and human genetics; and Chad Shaw, instructor of molecular and human genetics.