Adaptive evolution of anti-viral siRNAi genes in bumblebees
Sophie Helbing , Michael Lattorff
The high density of frequently interacting and closely related individuals in social insects enhance pathogen transmission and establishment within colonies. Group-mediated behavior supporting immune defenses tend to decrease selection acting on immune genes. Along with low effective population sizes this will result in relaxed constraint and rapid evolution of genes of the immune system. Here we show that sociality is the main driver of selection in antiviral siRNAi genes in social bumblebees compared to their socially parasitic cuckoo bumblebees that lack a worker caste. RNAi genes show frequent positive selection at the codon level additionally supported by the occurrence of parallel evolution and their evolutionary rate is linked to their pathway specific position with genes directly interacting with viruses showing the highest rates of molecular evolution. We suggest that indeed higher pathogen load in social insects drive adaptive evolution of immune genes, if not compensated by behavior.