Natural selection should favor the transfer of immune competence from one generation to the next in a context-dependent manner. Transgenerational immune priming (TGIP) is expected to evolve when species exploit pathogen-rich environments and exhibit extended overlap of parent-offspring generations. Dampwood termites are hemimetabolous, eusocial insects (Blattodea: Archeotermopsidae) that possess both of these traits. We predict that offspring of pathogen-exposed queens of Zootermopsis angusticollis will show evidence of a primed immune system relative to the offspring of unexposed controls. We found that Relish transcripts, one of two immune marker loci tested, were enhanced in two-day-old embryos when laid by Serratia-injected queens. These data implicate the immune deficiency (IMD) signaling pathway in TGIP. Although an independent antibacterial assay revealed that embryos do express antibacterial properties, these do not vary as a function of parental treatment. Taken together, Z. angusticollis shows transcriptional but not translational evidence for TGIP. This apparent incongruence between the transcriptional and antimicrobial response from termites suggests that effectors are either absent in two-day-old embryos or their activity is too subtle to detect with our antibacterial assay. In total, we provide the first suggestive evidence of transgenerational immune priming in a termite.
Keywords: IMD pathway; embryonic defenses; gene expression; hemimetabolous; immunity; parental effects; social insect; transgenerational immunity.