Thus apparently altruism is a purely socially emergent phenomena and one that is not gene driven.
Why is this *not* surprising?
In some of my musings on altruism, morality (which I posit emerges from it) and later the ability for religions to form....the definition of altruism stems from one underlying reality of social organisms:
The competition for limited resources necessitates in closely living organisms of the same type a response heuristic to the resources various states of supply under demand.
Here from 2012 I put a line under it:
"If a particular resource or resources is required for our survival and we are the only agent in the environment that can gain value from the resource we have no inherent desire to be altruistic, this may seem trivial but it is not...our altruism is not an absolute characteristic of our make up but rather an emergent quality of moral expression that ONLY becomes extant when others that also value that resource are present and subject to the same constraints."
It's all about the math, game theory.
In social organisms two responses to this can emerge cooperation or conflict....but they appear on a spectrum both across animal societies and also within those societies as resource variation dynamically varies.
Variation of this presentation to conflict or cooperation though depends on the individuals of these group of related members ability to *remember* and to understand the time cost average advantage of hoarding. Where hoarding is understood the signal for cooperation is stronger in fact made extant....particularly when individual variation in ability is also present and noted.
Ant (and other insect societies) present a very basic display of the opposite pole. Ants have barely any memory and use chemical signalling to govern the cooperation heuristic....right signal = friend, wrong signal = enemy.
Also as their memory is basically non existent they don't engage in individual hoarding and also don't recognize variation among their own group, nor do they engage retribution for hoarding like behavior (can't if they have a short memory)....so *apparent* cooperation in their society emerges purely from the dynamics of following the chemicals which are already inherently a genetic inheritance of the society.
This is key...as it means if true, that if one tests for methods to remove altruism in ant colonies one should NOT find a loss of genes as altruism in ant society is defined in a different way from altruism in societies of animals with a) visible individual variation (skills we can see and judge for utilization) and b) memory of time cost advantage of hoarding. c) fear of retribution (linked intimately to having memory).
So how did the researchers enable the "loss of altruism" is the next question. From the article:
"Testing this "novel gene" hypothesis is difficult given that all ants are social. However, not all ants make workers. Some ants are "workerless social parasites" whose queens exploit the worker force of other species by invading and setting up shop in their colonies. The authors took advantage of the unusual biology of these ants that have lost their worker caste to determine if worker genes really exist.
The research team, led by Chris R. Smith (Earlham College) and Alexander (Sasha) Mikheyev (Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology), sequenced and compared the genomes of six ants (3 hosts and 3 workerless social parasites) and looked for evidence that genes that are typically over expressed in the worker caste would degenerate through time when workers are no longer produced. Instead of finding degeneration in "worker" genes, they found that there are no "worker" genes and the majority of the protein coding genome is maintained in species that stopped producing workers even after one million years. Their research is online early in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution."
:So there it is, essentially what we call altruism in ants really is antruism...unique to ants (and other chemical driven social animals) and only analogically similar to altruism in higher animals which have a strong resource driven drive to modulate behavior along a cooperate to conflict pole because they have deep individual memories.
This makes sense as from an evolutionary perspective it leads to an ability for a group of related individuals to take radical survival departures that may cause internal conflict but still enable survival of at least some (the greedy and ruthless) individuals of the society on the conflict pole but with high risk to achieve (as such individuals need to watch their back all the time). On the cooperation pole it leads to increased survival on average as individual variation is leveraged to benefit over all ability to utilize available resources with low risk of attack.
Over all possible survival challenges this variation in potential response is a lot more dynamic to change than what exists in ant society where such response variation can't exist....a colony of ants will expend themselves to extinction attacking a foe or pursuing a food source. They survive as one and die as one...this seems honorable but it is foolish if what you want to do is propagate your species genes.
A major example of this success in human society include our technology...which emerge when individual variation is recognized and harnessed and then shared across groupings.
Where it not for language we'd still be disparate bands of cautious lineages.
Where it not for agriculture such lineage groupings would stay small in size.
Where it not for machinery and the harnessing of metals we'd still be living in mud huts instead of dispersed across the globe having used our technology to span continents and thus radically improve our survival ability to local conflict or environmental chaos breaking out.
So it turns out altruism arises not as a specific gene driven innovation but as an emergent one that arises as our individual ability to have long memories that can *chose to* hoard limited resources while navigating the consequences from others exists. Some could quibble here and say it is still genetic but by accident of those features in the animals in question, that is a way of seeing it but I think it over looks the critical importance of memory as a key enabler...thus exists in us but appears only as a simulation (which we thus anthropomorphize in ants and other insects).
Note the connection between altruism and morality described in that earlier article, where altruism is the ability to chose to cooperate by memory baring agents. Morality is the fabric of possible ways of cooperating given a given extant situation of need of resources....they are intimately related. As indicated in the earlier articles thought experiment where there are no others to deal with morality has no meaning , no means of application thus it is bound at the hip to altruism being possible in the first place.