SES Seminar Guest Graham Thompson (Western University)

Date and Time




"Genes from altruism: Inclusive fitness theory in age of genomics."

Genes have always been central to our understanding of social behaviour. This is evident from the gene-centric theory of kin selection that describes social evolution, and from the widespread use of figurative terms like ‘genes for altruism’ and ‘genes for selfishness’. Despite this understanding, however, it remains rare for empirical studies to look directly at the molecular variants that distinguish social from non-social breeding systems, and even fewer studies attempt to isolate the very genes under kin selection. Using the highly social honeybee as a model, I highlight some recent advances to our understanding of the evolutionary genetics of social life. Specifically, I show how kin selection theory can inform molecular biology to find real genes for altruism - first from identifying candidates from genome-wide association studies, to inferring their position within socially responsive gene networks, to finally testing the function of individual genes via social and genetic manipulations. The honeybee story parallels other advances in the bourgeoning field of sociogenomics.

Graham Thompson (Western U)

I am Associate Professor in Biology at Western. My students and I research the evolution of cooperation and altruism, typically using inclusive fitness theory as a guide, and insects - like, honey bees, termites and Drosophila - as models, both in the lab and in the field. In short, we strive to understand the evolution of animal societies, a topic that I find nicely philosophical, too!

I recently served on NSERCs Scholarships and Fellowships Selection Committee (Chair of Ecology and Evolution subcommittee), and currently serve on the European Society of Evolutionary Biology Outreach Committee. Moreover, I serve on the Pollination and Apiculture Advisory Committee of Ontario, and am a member of the Editorial Board for Insectes Sociaux.

In 2016, I was a Visiting Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland). Finally, I am a U of G alumnus: BSc 1993 and MSc 1995.

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