Cremer Group

Social Immunity

Social insects fight disease as a collective. Together, they perform nest hygiene and mutual sanitary care, effectively reducing the risk of infection and disease transmission through the colony. The Cremer group studies how collective protection arises at the colony level from individual behaviors and social interactions in ants.

Just like an individual immune response, collective disease defense of the colony must effectively balance the attack of pathogens and preventing self-harm to the host. The Cremer group showed that, similar to the way healthy host tissue is protected from collateral damage by the toxins used to fight pathogens, healthy members of social insect colonies are protected from “social immunopathology”. Ants disinfect their colonies constantly by spraying toxic poison over the brood – including the sensitive pupae, which would die from this treatment if not protected by a silk cocoon. Hence, similar to humans using protective gear like gloves when using harmful chemicals to clean their homes, ants that use formic acid as a disinfectant in the colony retained the practice to produce silk cocoons that protect their pupae, even though the production is costly.

Group Leader

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Current Projects

Collective hygiene in ant societies | Social interaction networks and epidemiology | Disease resistance and tolerance | Costs and benefits of social immunization

Recent Publications

Cremer S. 2019. Social immunity in insects. Current Biology. 29(11), R458–R463. View

Cremer S. 2019. Pathogens and disease defense of invasive ants. Current Opinion in Insect Science. 33, 63–68. View

Liutkeviciute Z, Gil Mansilla E, Eder T, Casillas Perez BE, Giulia Di Giglio M, Muratspahić E, Grebien F, Rattei T, Muttenthaler M, Cremer S, Gruber C. 2018. Oxytocin-like signaling in ants influences metabolic gene expression and locomotor activity. The FASEB Journal. 32(12), 6808–6821. View

Stroeymeyt N, Grasse AV, Crespi A, Mersch D, Cremer S, Keller L. 2018. Social network plasticity decreases disease transmission in a eusocial insect. Science. 362(6417), 941–945. View

Viljakainen L, Jurvansuu J, Holmberg I, Pamminger T, Erler S, Cremer S. 2018. Social environment affects the transcriptomic response to bacteria in ant queens. Ecology and Evolution. 8(22), 11031–11070. View

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since 2015 Professor, IST Austria
2010 – 2015 Assistant Professor, IST Austria
2010 Habilitation, University of Regensburg, Germany
2006 – 2010 Group Leader, University of Regensburg, Germany
2006 Junior Fellow, Institute of Advanced Studies, Berlin, Germany
2002 – 2006 Postdoc, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
2002 PhD, University of Regensburg, Germany

Selected Distinctions

2017 ERC Consolidator Grant
2015 Elisabeth Lutz Prize, Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW)
2013 Walther Arndt Prize of the German Zoological Society (DZG)
2012 Research Award Lower Austria: Anerkennungspreis des Landes Niederösterreich
2011 Elected Member of the Young Academy of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW)
2009 ERC Starting Grant
2008 Member of the Young Academy of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities; Alumna since 2013

Additional Information

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