Immune Gene Expression in Bombus terrestris: Signatures of Infection Despite Strong Variation among Populations, Colonies, and Sister Workers
Brunner, F.S., Schmid-Hempel, P., Barribeau, S.M.
Ecological immunology relies on variation in resistance to parasites. Colonies of the bumblebee Bombus terrestris vary in their susceptibility to the trypanosome gut parasite Crithidia bombi, which reduces colony fitness. To understand the possible origin of this variation in resistance we assayed the expression of 28 immunologically important genes in foraging workers. We deliberately included natural variation of the host “environment” by using bees from colonies collected in two locations and sampling active foraging workers that were not age controlled. Immune gene expression patterns in response to C. bombi showed remarkable variability even among genetically similar sisters. Nevertheless, expression varied with parasite exposure, among colonies and, perhaps surprisingly, strongly among populations (collection sites). While only the antimicrobial peptide abaecin is universally up regulated upon exposure, linear discriminant analysis suggests that the overall exposure effect is driven by a combination of several immune pathways and further immune functions such as ROS regulation. Also, the differences among colonies in their immune gene expression profiles provide clues to the mechanistic basis of well-known inter-colony variation in susceptibility to this parasite. Our results show that transcriptional responses to parasite exposure can be detected in ecologically heterogeneous groups despite strong background noise.
Brunner, F.S., Schmid-Hempel, P., Barribeau, S.M. "Immune Gene Expression in Bombus terrestris: Signatures of Infection Despite Strong Variation among Populations, Colonies, and Sister Workers" PLoS One (2013): e68181