Michael Goodisman, Associate Professor
Ph.D., Genetics, University of Georgia, 1998
Office: Cherry Emerson A110
Sociobiology, behavioral ecology, bioinformatics, molecular evolution, developmental biology, population genetics, evolutionary, genomics
The evolution of sociality represented one of the major transition points in the history of evolution. We are interested in understanding how evolutionary processes affect social systems and how sociality, in turn, affects the course of evolution. The principal subjects of our research are the social insects (ants, termites, bees, and wasps). Our research focuses on understanding the social structure and mating biology of invasive social insects. In addition, we are interested in the process of development in the context of sociality. In order to address these issues, we make use of a variety of techniques, including computer simulations, analytical theory, and field studies, as well as molecular genetic and genomic analysis.
Mating behavior in social systems
Variation in mating behavior by reproductives within social groups fundamentally alters the genetic relationships among interacting individuals. These changes in kinship set the stage for conflict among group members and, potentially, for the disintegration of the helping behaviors that characterize advanced societies. We are interested in understanding the evolution and ecology of mating systems in social insects. We are currently studying Vespula wasp (yellowjacket) mating biology. Using behavioral experiments, we have discovered that queens and males originating from ‘high fitness’ colonies procure more matings than those originating from normal colonies. In addition, certain morphological attributes are associated with mating success. We have also used molecular genetic markers to determine that male mates of multiply mated queens do not enjoy equal reproductive success. Future studies will consider the ultimate and proximate reasons for variation in male mating success.
Development in social systems
Many organisms produce different phenotypes by varying the genes they express. This ‘phenotypic plasticity’ allows organisms to operate successful in their environment. Highly social insects produce alternate phenotypes by varying patterns of gene expression under two different circumstances. First, social insects produce morphologically distinct castes (queens vs workers) that arise through phenotypic plasticity. Second, hymenopteran social insects produce males and females from the same sets of genes through differential gene activation. Our research focuses on understanding the evolution and development of phenotypic plasticity in social insects. We study patterns of gene expression to determine what genes are associated with phenotypic differences between castes or sexes. To study differences in gene expression, we use cDNA microarray technology or expressed sequence tag analysis. Future research will focus on understanding how phenotypic plasticity, and the genes associated with phenotypic plasticity, have evolved in different social insect taxa.
Population genetic structure in social systems
The evolution and maintenance of highly organized societies relies critically on the genetic structure of populations. We study the population genetic structure of invasive social insects using a comparative approach. Currently, we are interested in understanding the biotic and abiotic factors that affect the genetic structure of Vespula wasps. We also are using molecular genetic techniques to understand patterns of gene flow in invasive ants such as the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, and the crazy ant, Paratrechina longicornis.
Hunt BG, Glastad KM, Yi SV, Goodisman MAD. The function of intragenic DNA methylation: insights from insect epigenomes. Integrative and Comparative Biology. In press.
Glastad KM, Hunt BG, Goodisman MAD. Evidence of a conserved functional role for DNA methylation in termites. Insect Molecular Biology. In press.
Hunt BG, Glastad KM, Yi SV, Goodisman MAD. Patterning and regulatory associations of DNA methylation are mirrored by histone modifications in insects. Genome Biology and Evolution. 5:591-598.
Hunt BG, Glastad KM, Goodisman MAD. GC-content, caste, and molecular evolution in eusocial insects. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. 110:E445-E446.
Hunt BG, Ometto L, Keller L, Goodisman MAD. 2013. Evolution at two levels in fire ants: the relationship between patterns of gene expression and protein sequence evolution. Molecular Biology and Evolution. 30:263-271.
Gravish N, Garcia M, Mazouchova N, Levy L, Umbanhowar PB, Goodisman MAD, Goldman DI. 2012. Effects of worker size on the dynamics of fire ant tunnel construction. Journal of the Royal Society Interface. 9:3312-3322.
Hall DW, Goodisman MAD. 2012. The effects of kin selection on rates of molecular evolution in social insects. Evolution. 66:2080-2093.
Kovacs JL, Goodisman MAD. 2012. Effects of size, shape, genotype, and mating status on queen overwintering survival in the social wasp Vespula maculifrons. Environmental Entomology. 41:1612-1620.
Abbot P, et al. Responses arising from "Inclusive fitness theory and eusociality". Nature 472:E1-E4.
Molecular Ecology Resources Primer Development Consortium. 2011. Permanent Genetic Resources added to Molecular Ecology Resources Database 1 August 2010 - 30 September 2010. Molecular Ecology Resources. 11:219-222.