Ana Garcia-Vedrenne, was awarded the Best Student presentation award at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Parasitologists
Complex social organization with caste formation is best known for social insects and naked mole rats. Ana Garcia-Vedrenne's study presented evidence for trematode parasite social organization involving reproductive “Queens” and defensive “soldiers", all clone members, genetically identical. She examined 14 trematode species that infect the California horn snail, Cerithidea californica. Half of these species appear to have a division of labor involving a soldier caste, while the other half provide information on colony structure when soldiers are lacking. In vitro experiments demonstrated the effective defense of soldiers. Her work suggests that this complex social organization has evolved more than once among these parasites. There are roughly 18,000 species of digenean trematodes, many now appear to have such a social organization. Hence, trematodes may provide the most substantial radiation of sociality other than among the social insects.