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A gene associated with social immunity in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides.

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Palmer, William J 
Duarte, Ana 
Schrader, Matthew 
Day, Jonathan P 


Some group-living species exhibit social immunity, where the immune response of one individual can protect others in the group from infection. In burying beetles, this is part of parental care. Larvae feed on vertebrate carcasses which their parents smear with exudates that inhibit microbial growth. We have sequenced the transcriptome of the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides and identified six genes that encode lysozymes-a type of antimicrobial enzyme that has previously been implicated in social immunity in burying beetles. When females start breeding and producing antimicrobial anal exudates, we found that the expression of one of these genes was increased by approximately 1000 times to become one of the most abundant transcripts in the transcriptome. Females varied considerably in the antimicrobial properties of their anal exudates, and this was strongly correlated with the expression of this lysozyme. We conclude that we have likely identified a gene encoding a key effector molecule in social immunity and that it was recruited during evolution from a function in personal immunity.



Nicrophorus, burying beetle, lysozyme, parental care, social immunity, Animals, Coleoptera, Exudates and Transudates, Female, Gene Expression Regulation, Male, Phylogeny, Social Behavior, Transcriptome

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Proc Biol Sci

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The Royal Society
Natural Environment Research Council (NE/H019731/1)
European Research Council (281668)
European Research Council (310785)
This work was funded by ERC grant DrosophilaInfection 281668 to F.M.J., NERC grant no. NE/H019731/1 to R.M.K., ERC grant BALDWINIAN_BEETLES 310785 to R.M.K. and a Wolfson Merit Award to R.M.K.