For some organisms in the natural world, mass deception is a way of life, and evolution has transformed them into virtuoso manipulators.
In his December 11 Watson Lecture, titled "How to Deceive Society: An Insect Masterclass," Joe Parker, assistant professor of biology and biological engineering, will discuss his work on rove beetles (Staphylinidae)—arch tricksters capable of assimilating into ant colonies to exploit their social hosts undetected.
Parker's research uses rove beetles and their relationship with ants as a unique model system to understand the mechanisms that underpin how different organisms interact with each other. His work is shedding light on molecular and cellular phenomena that shape how animals perceive and communicate with other living organisms and evolve to forge new kinds of social relationships. His laboratory's work is highly integrative, combining genomics and molecular biology with chemical ecology and behavioral neuroscience to explore all facets of the ant-beetle interaction and its evolutionary origins. He and his team have found that the ant-beetle symbiosis has evolved not just once but independently many times in Staphylinidae, often leading to extremely similar adaptations in widely separate lineages. Parker's laboratory is probing this dramatic example of convergent evolution to understand how complex evolutionary changes can arise repeatedly and predictably across the tree of life.
The lecture, which will be held at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, December 11, in Beckman Auditorium, is a free event; online registration is requested. Visit www.caltech.edu/watson to register to attend.
Named for the late Caltech professor Earnest C. Watson, who founded the series in 1922, the Watson Lectures present Caltech and JPL researchers describing their work to the public. Many past Watson Lectures are available online at Caltech's YouTube site.