The Social Evolving: Sociogenomics on the Wings of Social Insects

Abstract

This paper excavates the epistemological and ontological foundations of a rapidly emerging field called sociogenomics in relation to the development of social insects as models of social behavior. Its center-stage is “the genome,” where social and environmental information and genetic variation interact to influence social behavior through dynamic shifts in gene expression across multiple bodies and time-scales. With the advent of whole-genome sequencing technology, comparative genomics, and computational tools for mining patterns of association across widely disparate datasets, social insects are being experimented with to identify genetic networks underlying autism, novelty-seeking and aggression evolutionarily shared with humans. Drawing on the writings of key social insect biologists, and historians and philosophers of science, I investigate how the historical development of social insect research on wasps, ants and bees shape central approaches in sociogenomics today, in particular, with regards to shifting understandings of “the individual” in relation to “the social.”

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