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To Care Or To Kill: When The Needs Of The Many Outweigh The Needs Of The Few.


As epitomized by epidemics and pandemics throughout human history, including the ongoing SARS CoV-2 pandemic, social life carries risks of substantial and rapid spread of infectious diseases. Termites living in pathogen-rich environments have evolved remarkably robust social immunity mitigation strategies that effectively prevent diseases from spreading within colonies. Individual termites carefully balance whether to care for a sick nestmate and save the colony worker resources, or kill the sick nestmate to remove the risk of an infection spreading. The behavioural and immunological factors driving this dichotomy remain obscure. The CareKill action will close major gaps in our understanding the role of pathogen dose and infection stage in governing the switch from care to kill, what genes are involved in decision-making (immune pathways, neural networks, genes involved in stress), and how behavioural and immune memory impact care-kill decision making during subsequent encounters with sick nestmates. The action will capitalise on my extensive background in behavioural ecology and social immunity in termites, and integrate state-of-the-art pathogen load quantification and global gene expression analyses on actively caretaking or killing focal termites to establish if social immune memory is key to effective long-term reduction of disease risks. In doing so, this work explores novel concepts and hypotheses to close important gaps in our understanding of social immunity. CareKill will benefit from synergies of ongoing chemical ecology research in the focal termite species by my host, Michael Poulsen (University of Copenhagen), who will provide training in combining molecular techniques and termite ecology. CareKill will provide fundamental novel insights into the adaptive value of mitigation strategies that are essential to curb the spread of diseases and that allow for long-lived animal societies to sustain in the face of pathogenic threats.


Net EU contribution
€ 214 934,40
Norregade 10
1165 Kobenhavn

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Danmark Hovedstaden Byen København
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
No data