Wasps’ unique facial recognition capabilities provide clues to the study of biological evolution

The Northern Paper Wasp is able to separate the same face from the other. New analysis of insect genetics shows that these unique and complex skills develop exceptionally rapidly, a trend that provides clues to the development of intellectual and beneficial traits. The study was carried out by genetic researchers at Cornell University who hope to better understand not only what features the Northern Paper Wasps evolved, but also the more quickly they were formed.

“The main question we’re going to explore is how complex features evolve. What is the way and rhythm of cognitive evolution? Lead researcher Michael Sheehan said. “The really surprising conclusion is that the strongest evolutionary choice pressure in the history of these wasps is not to deal with the climate, catch food, or deal with parasites, but to communicate more smoothly with each other. That’s very profound. “

Wasps' unique facial recognition capabilities provide clues to the study of biological evolution

Sheehan and his team studied the evolution of the northern paper wasp genome and the genomes of its two close relatives, allowing them to understand genetic variations and reveal DNA signatures for certain mutations.

“We’re looking for DNA fragments that lack diversity,” Sheehan said. “This shows that sometimes the emergence of new mutations is so beneficial that it sweeps through the population, and the longer the DNA fragments lack diversity, the more important it is to update and make drastic choices.” “

Through analysis, the team found powerful and fast choices of genes related to insect vision, learning and memory that are critical to facial recognition. They believe the change has taken place in the last few thousand years. At the same time, two close relatives of northern wasps did not exhibit strong genetic selection patterns for learning or memory, suggesting that facial recognition was an important driver of unique evolution.

Insects that recognize faces belong to a symbiotic society with multiple bees, a skill that is believed to be crucial to telling one bee and building a hierarchy after another. While studying wasps, the team sees the evolution of insects as a model for understanding how intelligence evolves more broadly.

“Our findings suggest that cognitive evolution is not necessarily progressive, ” Sheehan said. “The variation that occurs can lead to significant changes. This suggests that rapid adaptation of cognitive abilities may also be important in other species, such as human language. “

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.