Michael L. Smith
Department of Neurobiology and Behavior
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853
I'm interested in how organisms detect that they've reached the developmental stage where it becomes adaptive to invest in not only survival and growth, but also in reproduction. We commonly think of this process as puberty, the first reproductive investment that an organism makes. An organism going through puberty cannot yet reproduce, but it has begun to invest its resources in reproduction. How an organism detects its developmental state, and then shifts resources accordingly, is relevant at any level of biological organization, whether its a unicellular yeast, a multicellular plant, or a superorganism honey bee colony.
In a superorganism like a honey bee colony, puberty occurs when the number of workers in the colony surpasses a reproductive threshold. Once the colony has enough workers, the workers begin building special cells of beeswax comb to rear male reproductives, drones. This drone comb is built when the colony has over 4000 individuals, which raises an interesting question: how does a worker detect the number of other bees in her colony?
My PhD research is ongoing, so I do not regularly update this part of the website. However, I do encourage you to contact me via email if you'd like to know more about my current work, or if you'd like PDF's of any of my publications. I also welcome requests for outreach and collaboration, whether academic or not.