University of Oulu

Viljakainen L, Fürst MA, Grasse AV, Jurvansuu J, Oh J, Tolonen L, Eder T, Rattei T and Cremer S (2023) Antiviral immune response reveals host-specific virus infections in natural ant populations. Front. Microbiol. 14:1119002. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2023.1119002

Antiviral immune response reveals host-specific virus infections in natural ant populations

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Author: Viljakainen, Lumi1; Fürst, Matthias A.2; Grasse, Anna V.2;
Organizations: 1Ecology and Genetics Research Unit, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
2Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA), Klosterneuburg, Austria
3Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science, Division of Computational System Biology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
4Institute for Medical Biochemistry, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Vienna, Austria
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 4.6 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Frontiers Media, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-05-22


Hosts can carry many viruses in their bodies, but not all of them cause disease. We studied ants as a social host to determine both their overall viral repertoire and the subset of actively infecting viruses across natural populations of three subfamilies: the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile, Dolichoderinae), the invasive garden ant (Lasius neglectus, Formicinae) and the red ant (Myrmica rubra, Myrmicinae). We used a dual sequencing strategy to reconstruct complete virus genomes by RNA-seq and to simultaneously determine the small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) by small RNA sequencing (sRNA-seq), which constitute the host antiviral RNAi immune response. This approach led to the discovery of 41 novel viruses in ants and revealed a host ant-specific RNAi response (21 vs. 22 nt siRNAs) in the different ant species. The efficiency of the RNAi response (sRNA/RNA read count ratio) depended on the virus and the respective ant species, but not its population. Overall, we found the highest virus abundance and diversity per population in Li. humile, followed by La. neglectus and M. rubra. Argentine ants also shared a high proportion of viruses between populations, whilst overlap was nearly absent in M. rubra. Only one of the 59 viruses was found to infect two of the ant species as hosts, revealing high host-specificity in active infections. In contrast, six viruses actively infected one ant species, but were found as contaminants only in the others. Disentangling spillover of disease-causing infection from non-infecting contamination across species is providing relevant information for disease ecology and ecosystem management.

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Series: Frontiers in microbiology
ISSN: 1664-302X
ISSN-E: 1664-302X
ISSN-L: 1664-302X
Volume: 14
Article number: 1119002
DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2023.1119002
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
Funding: This study was funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF; M02076-B25 to MF) and the Academy of Finland (343022 to LV).
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 343022
Detailed Information: 343022 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © 2023 Viljakainen, Fürst, Grasse, Jurvansuu, Oh, Tolonen, Eder, Rattei and Cremer. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.