E.O. Wilson Proposes New Theory of Social Evolution


For decades, selflessness — as exhibited in eusocial insect colonies where workers sacrifice themselves for the greater good — has been explained in terms of genetic relatedness. Called kin selection, it was a neat solution to the conundrum of selflessness in what was supposedly an every-animal-for-itself evolutionary battle.

One early proponent was now-legendary Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, a founder of modern sociobiology. Now Wilson is leading the counterattack. […]

The researchers offer their own alternative theory, based on standard natural selection, but with a twist: After starting with a focus on a single founder, selection moves to the level of colony. From this perspective, a worker ant is something like a cell — part of a larger evolutionary unit, not a unit unto itself.

“Our model proves that looking at a worker ant and asking why it is altruistic is the wrong level of analysis,” said Tarnita. “The important unit is the colony.”

Wired Science: E.O. Wilson Proposes New Theory of Social Evolution

Are cadmium-contaminated insects killing endangered meat-eating plants?

Carnivorous plant

Around the world carnivorous plants are on the decline, the victims of habitat loss, illegal poaching and pollution. But now a new factor has come to light: The very insects the plants rely on for food may be poisoning them. […]

Cadmium is widely used in fertilizers, metal coatings, electronics, batteries and other products. Both metals can accumulate in the environment, and thus in insects, through improper waste disposal.

Scientific American: The fly’s revenge: Are cadmium-contaminated insects killing endangered meat-eating plants?

(Thanks Bill)

Insect Colonies Operate as ‘Superorganisms’, New Research Finds

ant colony

New A team of researchers including scientists from the University of Florida has shown insect colonies follow some of the same biological “rules” as individuals, a finding that suggests insect societies operate like a single “superorganism” in terms of their physiology and life cycle. […]

Now, researchers from UF, the University of Oklahoma and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have taken the same mathematical models that predict lifespan, growth and reproduction in individual organisms and used them to predict these features in whole colonies.

By analyzing data from 168 different social insect species including ants, termites, bees and wasps, the authors found that the lifespan, growth rates and rates of reproduction of whole colonies when considered as superorganisms were nearly indistinguishable from individual organisms.

Science Daily: Insect Colonies Operate as ‘Superorganisms’, New Research Finds

(via Chris Arkenberg)

Oregon profs plan giant robotic space cockroach warriors

Human traitors in Oregon are planning the construction of fearsome robot cockroaches physically superior to mankind.

“Cockroaches are incredible,” says John Schmitt, a prof at Oregon State uni. “They can run fast, turn on a dime, move easily over rough terrain, and react to perturbations faster than a nerve impulse can travel.”

Schmitt and his colleagues plan to build cockroach-like but much larger machines to be employed in “difficult jobs, such as military operations, law enforcement or space exploration”.

The spacegoing robowarrior roaches would have huge advantages over today’s vaguely humanoid or quadruped walker robots, according to Schmitt.

The Register: Oregon profs plan giant robotic space cockroach warriors

(via Steven Walling)

Tumors Feel The Deadly Sting Of Nanobees

When bees sting, they pump poison into their victims. Now the toxin in bee venom has been harnessed to kill tumor cells by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The researchers attached the major component of bee venom to nano-sized spheres that they call nanobees.

In mice, nanobees delivered the bee toxin melittin to tumors while protecting other tissues from the toxin’s destructive power. The mice’s tumors stopped growing or shrank. The nanobees’ effectiveness against cancer in the mice is reported in advance online publication Aug. 10 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Science Daily: Tumors Feel The Deadly Sting Of Nanobees

(via Chris Arkenberg)

The Hellstrom Chronicle on YouTube

More segments: YouTube

(via Ectomo)

Beetles are His Ticket to Ride


“Cooing softly in baby talk, German Viasus gently uses a toothbrush to bathe the little animal he has raised since infancy and then pampers it with a fresh meal of mango, bananas and melon. The object of his affection? A beetle the size of a hamster with a hard, shiny shell and 2-inch-long horns.

Viasus, 36, is a Colombian entrepreneur who is exploiting the beetle-mania sweeping Japan by raising and exporting hundreds of the creepy-crawlies every month. He has become a fearless (in more ways than one) pioneer of Colombia’s somewhat belated effort to promote the legal exploitation of its biodiversity, a stunning variety of plant and animal species that is second only to Brazil’s.”

(via The Chicago Tribune)

Hybrid Insect MEMS (HI-MEMS)

“Animal world has provided mankind with locomotion over millennia. For example we have used horses and elephants for locomotion in wars and conducting commerce. Birds have been used for sending covert messages, and to detect gases in coal mines, a life-saving technique for coal miners. More recently, olfactory training of bees has been used to locate mines and weapons of mass destruction. The HI-MEMS program is aimed to develop technology that provides more control over insect locomotion, just as saddles and horseshoes are needed for horse locomotion control.

The HI-MEMS program is aimed at developing tightly coupled machine-insect interfaces by placing micro-mechanical systems inside the insects during the early stages of metamorphosis.”

(via DARPA)

Robots Infiltrate, Influence Cockroach Groups

To explore how groups of cockroaches make collective decisions, scientists have created a robotic cockroach that the real insects accept as one of their own.

The robot doesn’t look anything like a cockroach to human eyes.

“It looks like an electronic matchbox,” said Jose Halloy, a researcher at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium. But that doesn’t matter, he says, “because in fact it has to look like a cockroach from a cockroach perspective.”

Basically, it has to smell like a cockroach. The scientists coat the boxy robots with a chemical, a cockroach smell, so the real roaches won’t run away.

Full Story: NPR.

See also: Ancient Scorpion Was Bigger Than Car.

(Both via Irreality News Wire).

Exterminators: the front line in the human/insect war

exterminators comic

New piece by me on Alterati:

‘Total chemical warfare against insects.’

That’s one of many proposals from Otto Muehl’s nihilistic ZOCK Manifesto. It’s the sort of thing most environmentalists would, at best, scoff at (or, at worst, give you a several hour lecture on the importance of biodiversity in ecosystems). In college, I once knew a guy who decided to live in harmony with the lice that had made his head a home. But that didn’t last more than a week. Even the most militant conservationist will break out the high power chemicals when their home is infested with cockroaches or ants, or if their body is plagued with lice or scabies.

Ever since I saw the mockumentary The The Hellstrom Chronicle when I was a teenager, I’ve been unable to forget the notion that humans and insects are at perpetual war. A war that we are losing.

I don’t know if Simon Oliver was influenced at all by Hellstrom Chronicle, but his comic Exterminators sure seems to detail the front lines of this imaginary war.

Full Story: Alterati.

Buy Exterminators vol. 1.

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