What can genomics tell us about social behavior?
Behaviour is an important component of fitness as it determines the response of an organism to stimuli, which in turn affects survival. One of the most challenging goals of modern evolutionary biology is to understand the relationship between genetic variation, phenotypic variation and fitness. Understanding behaviour, therefore, requires an appreciation of both proximate (mechanistic) and ultimate (evolutionary) processes. Much progress has been made in both these respects over the last few decades, but lack of integration in the study of these processes has hindered our understanding of behaviour. The nascent field of behavioural genomics is changing this by enabling both proximate and ultimate aspects of behaviour to be studied at the same level – that of the genes - across levels of biological organisation, from gene to phenotype for the first time. Using examples from our recent RNAseq analyses of eusocial paper wasps and dinosaur ants, I discuss how an integrated approach of genomic, transcriptomic and epigenetic analyses with classical behavioural methods is bringing us closer to an integrated understanding of both proximate and ultimate factors underlying insect behaviour. Behavioural genomics has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in how we think about behaviour, for example, by making us think more about the molecular nuts and bolts that make up a behaviour and the interaction of this machinery with its own (molecular) environment, as well as the ecological environment of the organism, and the organism’s society.