Relative contributions of environmental and maternal factors to trans-generational immune priming in T. castaneum

Megan Kennedy, Andrea Linn Graham, Ann T. Tate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


1. Trans-generational immune priming is a phenomenon in insects in which the offspring of mothers previously challenged with a focal microbe exhibit a survival advantage when challenged with that microbe. 2. Maternal egg provisioning with immune factors such as antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) is widely believed to contribute to the primed phenotype. However, other ‘socially mediated’ environmental factors secreted or excreted by the mother and others in the community, such as the gut microbiota or pheromones, may also affect offspring immune phenotype. 3. The relative contributions of maternal egg provisioning and socially mediated environmental factors to the primed larval phenotype were assessed by performing a cross-fostering survival experiment with Tribolium castaneum, in which the eggs of primed or naïve mothers were sterilised, treated with the frass of primed or naïve beetles, and challenged as larvae with the maternal pathogen, Bacillus thuringiensis. 4. Larvae from primed mothers showed greater survival than unprimed larvae, regardless of frass treatment; maternal treatment therefore showed a substantially greater contribution to larval priming than frass treatment. 5. Planned contrast tests to quantify the contributions of maternal and environmental matching revealed that maternal treatment mattered more for larvae exposed to primed, rather than unprimed, frass. This suggests that the effects of maternal egg provisioning may be exacerbated or mitigated by environmental factors. 6. Thus, although maternal egg provisioning plays a predominant role in producing the primed phenotype, environmental matching may matter for priming in some contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)100-104
Number of pages5
JournalEcological Entomology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Insect Science


  • Bacillus thuringiensis
  • Tribolium castaneum
  • microbiome
  • trans-generational immune priming


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