Ants, Genomes & Evolution

@ Queen Mary University London


Evolutionary genomics of social insects. Extensive theoretical work has explained how and why complex societies evolve. However, only little is known about the genes and molecular mechanisms responsible for social phenotypes. We have been identifying genes and mechanisms involved in the evolution of insect societies using modern genomics tools (Illumina, RNAseq, RADseq...). For example we recently:

  • sequenced and analyzed the genome of the invasive red fire ant Solenopsis invicta (PNAS 2011)
  • discovered that a fundamental social trait in this species (how many queens are accepted in the colony) is determined by variants of a social chromosome (Nature 2013).
  • described the gene expression changes that occur in a virgin queen when she is given the opportunity of replacing her mother (Mol Ecol 2010).

We are interested in themes including the genetics of behavior, the interplay between social evolution and genome evolution, and the molecular mechanisms responsible for differences between castes.

Genomics & Bioinformatics for emerging model organisms. The recent 10,000-fold drop in the cost of DNA sequencing means that any lab can sequence anything - and lots of it. This brings exciting opportunities but also new challenges. We develop innovative tools and approaches to facilitate modern biological work on emerging model organisms. For example:

  • BLAST is the most commonly used bioinformatics tool. But setting it up for private data and using it is counter-intuitive. We're developing SequenceServer to make BLAST easy to use.
  • Sequencing genomes has become straightforward. But you quickly realize that most gene predictions need to be inspected and many need to be manually fixed before performing analyses. This makes multi-species, multi-gene analyses very challenging. We are developing infrastructure to obtain help for this using crowd-sourcing.
  • Moreover, to further help with the curation of newly sequenced genomes, we developed GeneValidator, a tool that helps with the identification of problematic gene predictions. In order to make this more accessible to biologists, we have also made GeneValidator available online at:
  • Genomic analyses require jumping back and forth between many bioinformatics tools. The tools are young, often requiring frequent updates, and can be challenging to install. Software updates can make analyses difficult to reproduce and it is challenging to maintain different versions of software for different projects. Realising that isolated and reproducible bioinformatics software setup is possible using Docker , we are developing oswitch - a docker wrapper to facilitate use of docker to run analyses and create pipelines.


  • y.wurm [at]
  • @yannick__
  • yannickwurm
  • 5.17, Fogg Building, Organismal Biology Department, School of Biological & Chemical Sciences, Mile End Road, E1 4NS London, UK.

[Larger Map & Local Directions]

  • Joining the lab. We welcome Applications for Marie Skłodowska-Curie & other postdoctoral fellowships. PhD funding exists as part of multiple schemes. Internships available (min. 5 months). Please provide by email a CV, contact info of references and a short project proposal. Projects should adress major evolutionary or ecologically relevant questions, and/or major computational challenges. We use population genomics, comparative analyses, bioinformatics, molecular biology, software development, some hacking, and/or behavioral work. Our department is recruiting a bioinformatician.

We are grateful for the support from our recent funders: funding bodies

Publications See also [Google Scholar] & [Software Tools]

  1. Ant genomics: challenges to overcome and opportunities to seize. (2015) S Nygaard, Y Wurm Myrmecological News [PDF]
  2. Transposable element islands facilitate adaptation to novel environments in an invasive species. (2014) L Schrader, JW Kim, D Ence, A Zimin, A Klein, K Wyschetzki, T Weichselgartner, C Kemena, J Stökl, E Schultner, Y Wurm, CD Smith, M Yandell, J Heinze, J Gadau, J Oettler Nature communications 5, 5495. [DOI]
  3. Effects of ploidy and sex-locus genotype on gene expression patterns in the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. (2014) M Nipitwattanaphon, J Wang, KG Ross, O Riba-Grognuz, Y Wurm, C Khurewathanakul, L Keller Proc B 281: 20141776 [DOI]
  4. Social chromosome variants differentially affect queen determination and the survival of workers in the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. (2014) SD Buechel, Y Wurm, L Keller Molecular Ecology 23 (20), 5117-5127
  5. Convergent genetic architecture underlies social organization in ants. (2014) J Purcell, A Brelsford, Y Wurm, N Perrin, M Chapuisat Current Biology [DOI]
  6. Discovery and molecular characterization of an ambisense densovirus from South American populations of Solenopsis invicta. (2013) SM Valles, DW Shoemaker, Y Wurm, CA Strong, L Varone, JJ Becnel, et al Biological Control 67, 431-39 [DOI]
  7. Vitellogenin underwent subfunctionalization to acquire caste and behavioral specific expression in the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex barbatus. (2013) M Corona, R Libbrecht, Y Wurm, O Riba-Grognuz, RA Studer, L Keller PLoS Genetics 9 (8), e1003730 [DOI] [PDF]
  8. Sociogenomics of cooperation and conflict during colony founding in the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. (2013) F Manfredini, O Riba-Grognuz, Y Wurm, L Keller, DW Shoemaker, et al PLoS Genetics 9 (8), e1003633 [DOI]
  9. Comparative genomics of chemosensory protein genes reveals rapid evolution and positive selection in ant-specific duplicates. (2013) J Kulmuni, Y Wurm, P Pamilo Heredity 110 (6), 538-547 [DOI] [PDF]
  10. A Y-like social chromosome causes alternative colony organization in fire ants. (2013) J Wang*°, Y Wurm*°, M Nipitwattanaphon, O Riba-Grognuz, YC Huang, et al Nature 493 (7434), 664-668 [DOI] [PDF] 23×
  11. Duplication and concerted evolution in a master sex determiner under balancing selection. (2013) E Privman, Y Wurm°, L Keller° Proceedings of the Royal Society B 280, 1471-2954 [DOI]
  12. Social insect genomes exhibit dramatic evolution in gene composition and regulation while preserving regulatory features linked to sociality.. Genome Research gr.155408.113 [DOI] 17×
  13. The molecular clockwork of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. (2012) KK Ingram, A Kutowoi, Y Wurm, DW Shoemaker, R Meier, G Bloch PloS One 7 (11), e45715 [DOI]
  14. Epigenetics: the making of ant castes. (2012) A Chittka, Y Wurm, L Chittka Current Biology 22 (19), R835-R838 [DOI]
  15. Visualization and quality assessment of de novo genome assemblies. (2011) O Riba-Grognuz°, L Keller, L Falquet, I Xenarios, Y Wurm° Bioinformatics 27 (24), 3425-3426 [DOI] [PDF]
  16. The genomic impact of 100 million years of social evolution in seven ant species. Trends in Genetics 28 (1), 14-21 [DOI] [PDF] 31×
  17. Relaxed selection is a precursor to the evolution of phenotypic plasticity. (2011) BG Hunt, L Ometto, Y Wurm, DW Shoemaker, VY Soojin, L Keller, et al Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 108 (38), 15936-15941 [DOI] [PDF] 35×
  18. The genome of the leaf-cutting ant Acromyrmex echinatior suggests key adaptations to advanced social life and fungus farming. (2011) S Nygaard, G Zhang, M Schiott, C Li, Y Wurm, H Hu, J Zhou, L Ji, F Qiu, et al Genome Research 21 (8), 1339-1348 [DOI] [PDF] 70×
  19. The genome of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. (2011) Y Wurm°, J Wang, O Riba-Grognuz, M Corona, S Nygaard, BG Hunt, et al Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 108 (14), 5679 [DOI] [PDF] 123×
  20. Odorant binding proteins of the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta: an example of the problems facing the analysis of widely divergent proteins. (2011) D Gotzek°, HM Robertson, Y Wurm, DW Shoemaker PloS One 6 (1), e16289 [DOI] 12×
  21. Behind the scenes of an ant genome project. (2011) Y Wurm Formosan Entomologist 31 (2), 149-56
  22. Parasitoid wasps: from natural history to genomic studies. (2010) Y Wurm, L Keller Current Biology 20 (5), R242-R244 [DOI]
  23. Changes in reproductive roles are associated with changes in gene expression in fire ant queens. (2010) Y Wurm°, J Wang, L Keller Molecular Ecology 19 (6), 1200-1211 [DOI] [PDF] 19×
  24. Fourmidable: a database for ant genomics. (2009) Y Wurm°, P Uva, F Ricci, J Wang, S Jemielity, C Iseli, L Falquet, L Keller BMC Genomics 10 (1), 5 [DOI] [PDF] 21×
  25. Sociogenetics of fire ants. (2009) Y Wurm PhD Thesis; University of Lausanne Switzerland
  26. Behavioral Genomics: A, Bee, C, G, T. (2007) Y Wurm, J Wang, L Keller Current Biology 17 (2), R51-R53 [DOI] [PDF]
  27. An annotated cDNA library and microarray for large-scale gene-expression studies in the ant Solenopsis invicta. (2007) J Wang, S Jemielity, P Uva, Y Wurm, J Graeff, L Keller Genome Biology 8 (1), R9 [PDF] 50×
  28. Cryostock a software for cell culture management. (2005) M Zerlin, L Greiffenberg, Y Wurm, I Winkler, D Kreusel, S Toemoe, et al Animal Cell Technology Meets Genomics 397-400 [DOI]

Solenopsis invicta workers defend the fire ant genome against a Pogonomyrmex rugosus harvester ant worker.
© Romain Libbrecht & Yannick Wurm.

Fire ant genome