Charles E. Kaufman Foundation

2016 New Initiative Grant

Roberto Bonasio, Ph.D. (PI) Assistant Professor, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Pennsylvania

Arjun Raj, Ph.D. (co-PI) Assistant Professor, Department of Bioengineering, University of Pennsylvania

Single-cell dissection of social behavior in ant brains


We propose to study ant brains to better understand how genes regulate behavior. Although worker and queen ants develop from genetically identical embryos, workers hunt and keep the nest clean while queens only concerns themselves with staying healthy and laying eggs. These diametrically opposed behaviors emerge from genetically identical brains, suggesting that gene regulation in response to environmental cues (“nurture”) is more important than genetic hardwiring (“nature”) in this case. Here, we propose to utilize high-throughput gene quantification techniques at single-cell resolution to build a catalog and physical map of all neuronal types in different ant castes, with the goal of identifying potential “social” neurons that are more abundant or differentially active in workers compared to queens. Knowing how selective activation of certain genes in specific neurons controls which behaviors are carried out in each individual will be key to understanding similar processes in more complex animal brains, including our own.

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