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The digestive and defensive basis of carcass utilization by the burying beetle and its microbiota

: Vogel, H.; Shukla, S.P.; Engl, T.; Weiss, B.; Fischer, R.; Steiger, S.; Heckel, D.G.; Kaltenpoth, M.; Vilcinskas, A.

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Nature Communications 8 (2017), Art. 15186, 15 pp.
ISSN: 2041-1723
Journal Article, Electronic Publication
Fraunhofer IME ()

Insects that use ephemeral resources must rapidly digest nutrients and simultaneously protect them from competitors. Here we use burying beetles (Nicrophorus vespilloides), which feed their offspring on vertebrate carrion, to investigate the digestive and defensive basis of carrion utilization. We characterize gene expression and microbiota composition in the gut, anal secretions, and on carcasses used by the beetles. We find a strict functional compartmentalization of the gut involving differential expression of immune effectors (antimicrobial peptides and lysozymes), as well as digestive and detoxifying enzymes. A distinct microbial community composed of Firmicutes, Proteobacteria and a clade of ascomycetous yeasts (genus Yarrowia) is present in larval and adult guts, and is transmitted to the carcass via anal secretions, where the yeasts express extracellular digestive enzymes and produce antimicrobial compounds. Our results provide evidence of potential metabolic cooperation between the host and its microbiota for digestion, detoxification and defence that extends from the beetle's gut to its nutritional resource.