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Experimental evolution of resistance against Bacillus thuringiensis in the insect model host Galleria mellonella results in epigenetic modifications

: Mukherjee, K.; Grizanova, E.; Chertkova, E.; Lehmann, R.; Dubovskiy, I.; Vilcinskas, A.


Virulence 8 (2017), No.8, pp.1618-1630
ISSN: 2150-5594
ISSN: 2150-5608
DOI: 10.4161/viru
Journal Article
Fraunhofer IME ()

Epigenetic mechanisms have been proposed to translate environmental stimuli into heritable transgenerational phenotypic variations that can significantly influence natural selection. An intriguing example is exposure to pathogens, which imposes selection for host resistance. To test this hypothesis, we used larvae of the greater wax moth Galleria mellonella as model host to experimentally select for resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), the most widely used bacterial agent for the biological control of pest insects. To determine whether epigenetic mechanisms contribute to the evolution of resistance against pathogens, we exposed G. mellonella larvae over 30 generations to spores and crystals mix of Bt and compared epigenetic markers in this selected line, exhibiting almost 11-fold enhanced resistance against Bt, to those in a non-selected control population. We found that experimental selection influenced acetylation of specific histones and DNA methylation as well as transcription of genes encoding the enzymatic writers and erasers of these epigenetic mechanisms. Using microarray analysis, we also observed differences in the expression of conserved miRNAs in the resistant and susceptible larvae, resulting in the repression of candidate genes that confer susceptibility to Bt. By combining in silico minimum free energy hybridization with RT-PCR experiments, we identified the functions and biological processes associated with the mRNAs targeted by these miRNAs. Our results suggest that epigenetic mechanisms operating at the pre-transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels contribute to the transgenerational inherited transcriptional reprogramming of stress and immunity-related genes, ultimately providing a mechanism for the evolution of insect resistance to pathogen.