Cross-generational fitness effects of infection in Drosophila melanogaster

Fly (Austin). Apr-Jun 2009;3(2):143-50. doi: 10.4161/fly.8051. Epub 2009 Apr 1.


Activation of the immune system is beneficial in defending against pathogens, but may also have costly side effects on an organism's fitness. In this study we examine the fitness consequences of immune challenge in female Drosophila melanogaster by examining both direct (within generation) and indirect (between generations) costs and benefits of immune challenge. Though passing immunity to offspring has been studied in mammals for many years, only recently have researchers found evidence for a cross-generational priming response in invertebrates. By examining both potential fitness costs and benefits in the next generation, we were able to determine what effect immune challenge has on fitness. In agreement with other studies, we found a direct cost to infection, where immune challenged females laid fewer eggs than unchallenged females in two of the three lines we examined. In addition, we found some evidence for indirect costs. Offspring from immune challenged mothers had shorter lifespans than those from unchallenged mothers in two of the three lines. Interestingly, we do not see any effect of maternal immune challenge on offspring's ability to overcome an infection, nor do we see an effect on other fitness traits measured, including egg size, egg-adult viability and offspring resistance to oxidative stress. While previous studies in bumblebees and beetles have demonstrated cross-generation priming, our results suggest that it may not be a general phenomenon, and more work is needed to determine how widespread it is.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila melanogaster / immunology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / microbiology
  • Female
  • Lactococcus lactis / physiology
  • Male
  • Ovum / physiology
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / physiology
  • Reproduction / immunology*