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Keywords:

  • burying beetle;
  • innate immunity;
  • transcriptome;
  • antimicrobial peptides;
  • antimicrobials;
  • host–microbe interactions

Abstract

Burying beetles reproduce on small vertebrate cadavers which they bury in the soil after localization through volatiles emitted from the carcass. They then chemically preserve the carcass and prepare it as a diet for the adults and their offspring. It is predicted that exposure to high loads of soil and/or carrion-associated microbes necessitates an effective immune system. In the present paper, we report experimental screening for immunity-related genes in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides using the suppression subtractive hybridization approach. A total of 1179 putative gene objects were identified in the Nicrophorus cDNA library, which was enriched for transcripts differentially expressed upon challenge with heat-inactivated bacteria. In addition to genes known to be involved in immunity-related recognition and signalling, we found transcripts encoding for antimicrobial peptides and for an array of enzymes that can be linked to immunity or to stress-induced pathways. We also determined proteins that may contribute to detoxification of toxins produced by microbial competitors. In addition, factors involved in mRNA stability determination and central components of the RNA interference machinery were identified, implying transcriptional reprogramming and potential stress-induced retrotransposon elimination. The identified candidate immune effector and stress-related genes may provide important information about the unusual ecology and evolution of the burying beetles.