NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology FY 2015

Project: Research project

Project Details


This action funds an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology for FY 2015, Broadening Participation. The fellowship supports a research and training plan in a host laboratory for the Fellow and a plan to broaden participation of groups under-represented in science. The title of the research plan for this fellowship to Margarita M. López-Uribe is 'The evolutionary consequences of sociality for immune systems.' The host institution for this fellowship is North Carolina State University, and the sponsoring scientists are Robert R. Dunn, David R. Tarpy, and Steven D. Frank.

Social living poses challenges for individual fitness because of a greater risk of disease transmission in crowded environments. Despite this challenge, sociality is evolutionarily successful, occurring not only in humans but also in the most abundant and diverse group of organisms on earth, the social insects. Evolutionary theory predicts that the immune systems of social organisms should be strongly shaped by the risk of social disease transmission. Two competing hypotheses predict the evolutionary consequences of group living on immune systems. The social group hypothesis (SGH) posits that the higher risk of disease transmission in social species will lead to the presence of more diverse disease communities and stronger individual immune systems in social species than in solitary ones. In contrast, the relaxed selection hypothesis (RSH) proposes that social species have evolved behavioral immune defenses that lower disease risk within the group, resulting in a less diverse pathogen community and reduced immunity at the individual level. The fellowship research tests these hypotheses using a comparative phylogenetic approach across multiple solitary and social bee species to investigate the evolutionary mechanisms that benefit insect societies in view of the expected costs of group living. Insights gained from bees may also be applicable to other social groupings where large population density may be shaping immune systems and host-pathogen dynamics, including in humans.

Training goals focus on increasing expertise in bioinformatics, immunological assays, and comparative phylogenetics. Career advancement activities and educational outreach overlap by developing a new course at the host institution, enrolling in pedagogical workshops, and creating lesson plans for elementary and middle school classrooms. Public outreach includes disseminating information about native bee fauna and their environmental threats to wider audiences in two ways: 1) by conducting native bee pollinator workshops; and 2) by working with the 'Students Discover' program to develop classroom lessons about public health and the spread of diseases. Workshops and lesson plans are both in English and Spanish, to be inclusive of Hispanic communities.

Effective start/end date1/1/1612/31/17


  • National Science Foundation: $45,561.00


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