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Cremer Group

Social Immunity

Social insects fight disease as a cooperative unit. 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.

The disease defense of ants is amazingly similarly organized to the immune system within our own bodies. This is because a colony of social insects, like bees, ants and termites, is a single reproductive unit made out of thousands to millions of individual organisms. Like the cells in our body, the different individuals in the colony specialize on different tasks: the queen (germline) on reproduction and the sterile workers (soma) on colony maintenance and brood rearing. Every ant protects itself by individual hygiene and a physiological immune system that effectively fights off microbes. In addition, workers clean the nest environment by spraying their antimicrobial poison, nibbling-off pathogens from one another’s body, and by treating infections. Thereby, they cooperatively prevent pathogen contamination, replication and spread through the colony.


Image of Martin Estermann

Martin Estermann

Research Technician

Image of Anna Grasse

Anna Grasse

Research Technician

+43 2243 9000 3409

Image of Michaela Hönigsberger

Michaela Hönigsberger


Image of Hanna Leitner

Hanna Leitner

Research Technician

Image of Lukas Lindorfer

Lukas Lindorfer

PhD Student

Image of Tanvi Madaan

Tanvi Madaan

PhD Student

Image of David Moreno Martinez

David Moreno Martinez

PhD Student

Image of Harikrishnan Rajendran

Harikrishnan Rajendran


Image of Linda Sartoris

Linda Sartoris

PhD Student

Image of Florian Strahodinsky

Florian Strahodinsky

PhD Student

Current Projects

Pathogen spread and disease prevention in social insects | Epidemiology along social interaction networks | Collective disease resistance and tolerance | Pathogen detection and infection treatment

Recent Publications

Habig M, Grasse AV, Müller J, Stukenbrock EH, Leitner H, Cremer S. 2024. Frequent horizontal chromosome transfer between asexual fungal insect pathogens. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 121(11), e2316284121. View

Csata E, Perez-Escudero A, Laury E, Leitner H, Latil G, Heinze J, Simpson S, Cremer S, Dussutour A. 2024. Fungal infection alters collective nutritional intake of ant colonies. Current Biology. 34(4), 902–909.e6. View

Metzler S, Kirchner J, Grasse AV, Cremer S. 2023. Trade-offs between immunity and competitive ability in fighting ant males. BMC Ecology and Evolution. 23, 37. View

Casillas Perez BE, Bodova K, Grasse AV, Tkačik G, Cremer S. 2023. Dynamic pathogen detection and social feedback shape collective hygiene in ants. Nature Communications. 14, 3232. View

Stockmaier S, Ulrich Y, Albery GF, Cremer S, Lopes PC. 2023. Behavioural defences against parasites across host social structures. Functional Ecology. 37(4), 809–820. View

View All Publications

ReX-Link: Sylvia Cremer


Since 2015 Professor, Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA)
2010 – 2015 Assistant Professor, Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA)
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); Alumna since 2019
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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