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Department of Zoology


The members of the Kilner group have just published a paper about a gene strongly associated with social immunity in the burying beetle.

'A gene associated with social immunity in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides'
William J. Palmer, Ana Duarte, Matthew Schrader, Jonathan P. Day, Rebecca Kilner, Francis M. Jiggins

Burying beetles need a small dead animal, like birds or mice, to reproduce. Parents shave off any fur or feathers, roll the flesh into a ball, cover it with antimicrobial fluids and bury it in a shallow grave.

There the flesh becomes an edible nest for their larvae. Here we identify a lysozyme gene in the beetle whose expression is strongly correlated with the antimicrobial potency of the fluids coating the carcass, and increased more than a thousandfold during reproduction. We suggest that this gene evolved originally as part of the beetle's immune system, but now serves to defend larvae from microbial attack.