Featured image: Studying ant behavior is easy when each individual is painted different colors and your lab has fancy video tracking software. (Courtesy Daniel Charbonneau)
This week, we feature Chris Tokita, graduate researcher in Princeton’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department, who tells us about his work on division of labor and social networks. Computational biology lets us model behavior in a simulation: by picking a few rules and seeing if virtual groups behave like real groups in experiments, we can test what rules are most important for group functioning. Chris applies this strategy to clonal raider ants, which all have the same genetics but nonetheless form division of labor where some ants nurse, some forage, some clean… A simple rule where each ant feels a “threshold” for performing a task seems to explain this diversification, which makes the colony more successful. But there are unanswered questions concerning the clustering of insect social networks and the transfer of information through the colony that will keep Chris busy tuning his simulation—eventually, his studies might lead us to more generalizable facts about human society itself.
Listen through the end for the full story on Chris’s political work too, both at the federal Science and Technology Policy Institute and the local New Jersey General Assembly!
In other news:
- Miniature nano-tornadoes, or skyrmions, are made up of organized electron spin and seem to have complicated 3D structure.
- Hearing repetitive words sounds to your brain like music, which prompted a new neuroscientific hypothesis that pits your language-comprehension skills against your knack for rhythm.
- Sexual harassment is a big issue in science, and it’s not just egregious offenses that are an issue: women report a pervasive culture of put-downs that will take more than legal changes to redress.
The playlist can be found on WPRB.com or below.