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Disease and Immunity – Department of Biology - University of Copenhagen

Social Evolution > CSE Research > Disease and Immunity

Disease and immunity

Social insects live in dense colonies of related individuals, which may elevate spread of infectious diseases within the colony unless specific defence measures are in place. Social insects have indeed evolved various traits that function as a collective disease defence to supplement the immune defences of individuals. Among those are prophylactic use of plant chemicals or gland secretions, and hygienic altruistic behaviours. We use comparative transcriptomics, infection experiments and behavioural observations to identify the genetic and neural networks that regulate these highly efficient disease defences and assess their impact in insect societies of various organizational scale and social complexity.

Many generalist and some specialist pathogens occur both on social and non-social insects, so that comparisons of pathogen virulence and insect defence adaptations across such lineages are of considerable interest for answering questions of host-pathogen evolution and pathogen host-range expansions and/or contractions. Generalist and specialist pathogens differ fundamentally in the range of host species they infect, with the degree of pathogen specialization likely governing their propensity to shift host species. We combine studies of pathogen host adaptation with experimental host shifts in the laboratory aiming to disentangle the molecular details of pathogen host adaptation using comparative genomics, experimental evolution and infection experiments and both social and non-social model systems.

Model Organisms

Formica wood ants

Fungus-growing ants

Honey bees

House flies

Generalist pathogenic fungi (e.g. the Hypocrealean genera Metarhizium, Beauvaria)

Specialist pathogenic fungi (e.g. from the genera Entomophthora, Pandora, Ascosphaera, Nosema)


Behavioural experiments

Genetic analyses


Immune assays

Laboratory colonies

Experimental evolution

Principal Investigators

Henrik H. de Fine Licht

Assistant Professor

Line V. Ugelvig

Assistant Professor

Co-PIs (Internal)

Jørgen Eilenberg


Annette B. Jensen

Associate Professor

Nicolai V. Meiling

Associate Professor


Susanna T. Saari

Myrsini E. Natsopoulou

MSc students

Veronica Sinotte

Andreas N. Hansen