Special Viewpoints

The Many Selves of Social Insects

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Science  12 Apr 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5566, pp. 311-313
DOI: 10.1126/science.1070671

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Social insects show multiple levels of self identity. Most individuals are sterile workers who selflessly labor for their colony, which is often viewed as a superorganism. The superorganism protects itself with colony recognition systems based on learned odors, typically cuticular hydrocarbons. Transfer of these odors within the colony obscures separate clan identities. Residual individual interests do appear to cause conflicts within colonies over sex ratio, male production, caste, and reproductive dominance. However, genomic imprinting theory predicts that the individual's maternal and paternal genes will evolve separate infraorganismal identities, perhaps leaving virtually no coherent individual identity.

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