What We Do

We are interested in the evolution of cooperation. It is one of the grand puzzles of life because cooperation should be difficult to evolve by natural selection. Evolution usually favors “selfish” individuals that outcompete others, but it has nevertheless forged highly cooperative entities like social insect colonies, multicellular organisms, and the eukaryotic cell. We are interested in how cooperation and altruism evolve, with questions ranging from the genetic and molecular details of cooperation in social amoebas up to the nature of organisms. In empirical studies, we have largely shifted from work on social insects to social amoebas. This gives us the opportunity to do experimental evolution studies and to study cooperation, cheating, and kin recognition at the genetic, molecular and genomic levels. On the theoretical side, we use models derived largely from inclusive fitness theory. We are also interested in the evolution of multicellularity and genomic imprinting in social insects. Questions about cooperative interactions involve genetic relatedness, kin recognition, power asymmetries, synergistic advantages to associating, and control of exploitation. Sociality among microbes is a relatively new and exciting field.

We run a cooperative program in social evolution focusing on the social amoeba as a model organism. This ancient group of single-celled eukaryotes has a solitary single-celled stage, and a multicellular social stage that involves altruism. The advantage of this system for studying social traits include sequenced genomes, the ease of experimental evolution studies, single-gene experiments, field-collected clones, a new bacterial symbiosis, and an active and collaborative world-wide Dictyostelium community with annual meetings, Dictybase, and a stock center.