The within-host dynamics of infection in trans-generationally primed flour beetles

Ann T. Tate, Peter Andolfatto, Jeffery P. Demuth, Andrea Linn Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Many taxa exhibit plastic immune responses initiated after primary microbial exposure that provide increased protection against disease-induced mortality and the fitness costs of infection. In several arthropod species, this protection can even be passed from parents to offspring through a phenomenon called trans-generational immune priming. Here, we first demonstrate that trans-generational priming is a repeatable phenomenon in flour beetles (Tribolium castaneum) primed and infected with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). We then quantify the within-host dynamics of microbes and host physiological responses in infected offspring from primed and unprimed mothers by monitoring bacterial density and using mRNA-seq to profile host gene expression, respectively, over the acute infection period. We find that priming increases inducible resistance against Bt around a critical temporal juncture where host septicaemic trajectories, and consequently survival, may be determined in unprimed individuals. Our results identify a highly differentially expressed biomarker of priming, containing an EIF4-e domain, in uninfected individuals, as well as several other candidate genes. Moreover, the induction and decay dynamics of gene expression over time suggest a metabolic shift in primed individuals. The identified bacterial and gene expression dynamics are likely to influence patterns of bacterial fitness and disease transmission in natural populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3794-3807
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Bacillus thuringiensis
  • EIF4-e
  • Tribolium castaneum
  • gene expression
  • metabolism
  • trained immunity
  • trans-generational immune priming


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