author={Joan E. Strassmann and David C. Queller},
We propose that what makes an organism is nearly complete cooperation, with strong control of intraorganism conflicts, and no affiliations above the level of the organism as unified as those at the organism level. Organisms can be made up of like units, which we call fraternal organisms, or different units, making them egalitarian organisms. Previous definitions have concentrated on the factors that favor high cooperation and low conflict, or on the adapted outcomes of organismality. Our… 

Contextual organismality: Beyond pattern to process in the emergence of organisms

It is suggested that context dependence may be a stepping stone to the development of increased organismal unification, as the most integrated biological entities generally show little context dependence.

Reviving the Organismic Analogy in Sociology: Human Society as an Organism

Author(s): Dunn, Matthew Bjorn | Advisor(s): Turner, Jonathan H | Abstract: Comparing the operation of human societies to the operation of organisms was a common theme in the theories of sociology’s

What are the Major Transitions?

The ‘Major Transitions in Evolution’ (MTE) framework has emerged as the dominant paradigm for understanding the origins of life’s hierarchical organization, but it has been criticized on the grounds

Inter-group cooperation in humans and other animals

The circumstances under which inter-group cooperation is expected to emerge are examined and examples with particular focus on groups in two well-studied but dissimilar taxa: humans and ants are presented.

Individuality as a Theoretical Scheme. II. About the Weak Individuality of Organisms and Ecosystems

The article focuses on general features of the concept of weak individuality, arguing that in any ontological field individuals are understood on the basis of the authors' knowledge of interactions, through the application of these general formulas for extracting individuals from interactions.

Individuality as a Theoretical Scheme. I. Formal and Material Concepts of Individuality

The article argues that if ecosystems do not have strong individuality (in the sense of natural-selection-based individuality), they still possess a weak individuality, ecological theories providing the values of the variables in the formula for individuality.

In the light of evolution V: Cooperation and conflict

This paper serves as an introduction to the fifth in a series of Colloquia under the general title “In the Light of Evolution” (ILE), which explores recent developments in the study of cooperation and conflict, ranging from the level of the gene to societies and symbioses.

What is an Individual Organism? A Multilevel Selection Perspective

It is concluded that complex multicellular organisms and colonies of eusocial insects satisfy these three criteria, but that, in most cases (with at least one notable exception), colonies of modular organisms and genetic chimeras do not.

Adaptation and the Parliament of Genes

The results suggest that selfish genetic elements will either have a minor impact at the individual level, or tend to be suppressed, and that selection on selfish Genetic elements will often drive their own suppression.

Superorganismality and caste differentiation as points of no return: how the major evolutionary transitions were lost in translation

It is shown that only Wheeler's original definition of superorganismality can be unambiguously linked to irreversible evolutionary transitions from context‐dependent reproductive altruism to unconditional differentiation of permanently unmated castes in the ants, corbiculate bees, vespine wasps and higher termites.



Beyond society: the evolution of organismality

This survey suggests that many of the traits commonly used to define organisms are not essential, including physical contiguity, indivisibility, clonality or high relatedness, development from a single cell, short-term and long-term genetic cotransmission, germ–soma separation and membership in the same species.

Reviving the superorganism.

Insect societies as divided organisms: The complexities of purpose and cross-purpose

Although kin selection explains the extensive cooperation and common purpose of social insect colonies, it also predicts a certain amount of cross-purpose and conflict behavior.

Genes and the Agents of Life: The Individual in the Fragile Sciences Biology

The author examines group selection, pluralism, entwinement, and the levels of selection in the context of Species, Organisms, and Biological Natural Kinds.

Genetic conflicts and intercellular heterogeneity

The cases of intraorganismal genetic heterogenity discussed by Pineda-Krch & Lehtila (2004) would be better described as intercellular heterogeneity – different cells of the same individual having different genes.

Does Biology Need an Organism Concept?

It is argued that the organism concept is central to biology and should not be abandoned, and both organism concepts and operational definitions are useful.

The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies

The Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of The Ants render the extraordinary lives of the social insects in this visually spectacular volume, and provides a deep look into a part of the living world hitherto glimpsed by only a very few.


Insect societies are macroscopic, and because they span the entire range from solitary individuals to essentially superorganismal colonies, they offer an accessible model for how such transitions can happen.

Individuality and Selection

Evolutionary theory is currently undergoing a period of rapid development, but in the process several problems have cropped up that are proving to be infuriatingly difficult to resolve-e.g. the

Relatedness and the fraternal major transitions.

  • D. Queller
  • Biology
    Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences
  • 2000
The role of kinship is examined, focusing on the transitions to multicellularity in animals and to coloniality in insects, to show that kin selection based on high relatedness permitted cooperation and a reproductive division of labour.