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    A depauperate immune repertoire precedes evolution of sociality in bees

    Barribeau, Seth M. and Sadd, Ben M. and du Plessis, Louis and Brown, Mark J.F. and Buechel, Severine D. and Chappelle, Kaat and Carolan, James C. and Christiaens, Oliver and Colgan, Thomas J. and Erler, Silvio and Evans, Jay and Helbing, Sophie and Karaus, Elke and Lattorff, H. Michael and Marxer, Monica and Meeus, Ivan and Näpflin, Kathrin and Niu, Jinzhi and Schmid-Hempe, Regula and Smagghe, Guy and Waterhouse, Robert M. and Yu, Na and Zdobnov, Evgeny and Schmid-Hempel, Paul (2015) A depauperate immune repertoire precedes evolution of sociality in bees. Genome Biology, 16 (83). pp. 1-20. ISSN 1465-6906

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    Background: Sociality has many rewards, but can also be dangerous, as high population density and low genetic diversity, common in social insects, is ideal for parasite transmission. Despite this risk, honeybees and other sequenced social insects have far fewer canonical immune genes relative to solitary insects. Social protection from infection, including behavioral responses, may explain this depauperate immune repertoire. Here, based on full genome sequences, we describe the immune repertoire of two ecologically and commercially important bumblebee species that diverged approximately 18 million years ago, the North American Bombus impatiens and European Bombus terrestris. Results: We find that the immune systems of these bumblebees, two species of honeybee, and a solitary leafcutting bee, are strikingly similar. Transcriptional assays confirm the expression of many of these genes in an immunological context and more strongly in young queens than males, affirming Bateman’s principle of greater investment in female immunity. We find evidence of positive selection in genes encoding antiviral responses, components of the Toll and JAK/STAT pathways, and serine protease inhibitors in both social and solitary bees. Finally, we detect many genes across pathways that differ in selection between bumblebees and honeybees, or between the social and solitary clades. Conclusions: The similarity in immune complement across a gradient of sociality suggests that a reduced immune repertoire predates the evolution of sociality in bees. The differences in selection on immune genes likely reflect divergent pressures exerted by parasites across social contexts

    Item Type: Article
    Additional Information: © 2015 Barribeau et al.; licensee BioMed Central. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
    Keywords: depauperate; immune repertoire; evolution; sociality; bees;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Science and Engineering > Biology
    Item ID: 7166
    Identification Number: 0.1186/s13059-015-0628-y
    Depositing User: James Carolan
    Date Deposited: 06 Jul 2016 15:33
    Journal or Publication Title: Genome Biology
    Publisher: BioMed Central
    Refereed: Yes
    Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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