Integrative Genomics Reveals the Genetics and Evolution of the Honey Bee’s Social Immune System
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Social organisms combat pathogens through individual innate immune responses or through social immunity—behaviors among individuals that limit pathogen transmission within groups. Although we have a relatively detailed understanding of the genetics and evolution of the innate immune system of animals, we know little about social immunity. Addressing this knowledge gap is crucial for understanding how life-history traits influence immunity, and identifying if trade-offs exist between innate and social immunity. Hygienic behavior in the Western honey bee, Apis mellifera, provides an excellent model for investigating the genetics and evolution of social immunity in animals. This heritable, colony-level behavior is performed by nurse bees when they detect and remove infected or dead brood from the colony. We sequenced 125 haploid genomes from two artificially selected highly hygienic populations and a baseline unselected population. Genomic contrasts allowed us to identify a minimum of 73 genes tentatively associated with hygienic behavior. Many genes were within previously discovered QTLs associated with hygienic behavior and were predictive of hygienic behavior within the unselected population. These genes were often involved in neuronal development and sensory perception in solitary insects. We found that genes associated with hygienic behavior have evidence of positive selection within honey bees (Apis), supporting the hypothesis that social immunity contributes to fitness. Our results indicate that genes influencing developmental neurobiology and behavior in solitary insects may have been co-opted to give rise to a novel and adaptive social immune phenotype in honey bees.
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