University of Oulu

Viljakainen L, Jurvansuu J, Holmberg I, Pamminger T, Erler S, Cremer S. Social environment affects the transcriptomic response to bacteria in ant queens. Ecol Evol. 2018;8:11031–11070.

Social environment affects the transcriptomic response to bacteria in ant queens

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Author: Viljakainen, Lumi1; Jurvansuu, Jaana1; Holmberg, Ida1;
Organizations: 1Ecology and Genetics Research Unit, University of Oulu
2School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
3Institute of Biology, Molecular Ecology, Martin‐Luther‐University Halle‐Wittenberg, Halle (Saale), Germany
4Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria), Klosterneuburg, Austria
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.2 MB)
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Language: English
Published: John Wiley & Sons, 2018
Publish Date: 2019-04-01


Social insects have evolved enormous capacities to collectively build nests and defend their colonies against both predators and pathogens. The latter is achieved by a combination of individual immune responses and sophisticated collective behavioral and organizational disease defenses, that is, social immunity. We investigated how the presence or absence of these social defense lines affects individual‐level immunity in ant queens after bacterial infection. To this end, we injected queens of the ant Linepithema humile with a mix of gram+ and gram− bacteria or a control solution, reared them either with workers or alone and analyzed their gene expression patterns at 2, 4, 8, and 12 hr post‐injection, using RNA‐seq. This allowed us to test for the effect of bacterial infection, social context, as well as the interaction between the two over the course of infection and raising of an immune response. We found that social isolation per se affected queen gene expression for metabolism genes, but not for immune genes. When infected, queens reared with and without workers up‐regulated similar numbers of innate immune genes revealing activation of Toll and Imd signaling pathways and melanization. Interestingly, however, they mostly regulated different genes along the pathways and showed a different pattern of overall gene up‐regulation or down‐regulation. Hence, we can conclude that the absence of workers does not compromise the onset of an individual immune response by the queens, but that the social environment impacts the route of the individual innate immune responses.

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Series: Ecology and evolution
ISSN: 2045-7758
ISSN-E: 2045-7758
ISSN-L: 2045-7758
Volume: 8
Issue: 22
Pages: 11031 - 11070
DOI: 10.1002/ece3.4573
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
Funding: This research was funded by the Academy of Finland postdoctoral grant no. 260147 to LV.
Copyright information: © 2018 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited