Transcriptomics of an extended phenotype: parasite manipulation of wasp social behaviour shifts expression of caste-related genes

Amy C. Geffre* (Corresponding Author), Ruolin Liu, Fabio Manfredini, Laura Beani, Jeyaraney Kathirithamby, Christina M. Grozinger, Amy L. Toth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Parasites can manipulate host behaviour to increase their own transmission and fitness, but the genomic mechanisms by which parasites manipulate hosts are not well understood. We investigated the relationship between the social paper wasp, Polistes dominula, and its parasite, Xenos vesparum (Insecta: Strepsiptera), to understand the effects of an obligate endoparasitoid on its host's brain transcriptome. Previous research suggests that X. vesparum shifts aspects of host social caste-related behaviour and physiology in ways that benefit the parasitoid. We hypothesized that X. vesparum-infested (stylopized) females would showa shift in caste-related brain gene expression. Specifically, we predicted that stylopized females, who would normally be workers, would show gene expression patterns resembling pre-overwintering queens (gynes), reflecting gyne-like changes in behaviour. We used RNA-sequencing data to characterize patterns of brain gene expression in stylopized females and compared these with those of unstylopized workers and gynes. In support of our hypothesis, we found that stylopized females, despite sharing numerous physiological and life-history characteristics with members of the worker caste, show gyne-shifted brain expression patterns. These data suggest that the parasitoid affects its host by exploiting phenotypic plasticity related to social caste, thus shifting naturally occurring social behaviour in a way that is beneficial to the parasitoid.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20170029
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London. B, Biological Sciences
Issue number1852
Early online date12 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017

Bibliographical note

We thank Jimena Carrillo-Tripp and Adam Dolezal for mCherry primers and qRT-PCR standards and Apis mellifera sequences used to design control genes in P. dominula, Dave Galbraith and Brendan Hunt for assistance with the RNA-seq data analysis, Zoltan Acs for wasp samples used to generate preliminary data (not included in the final study), Daniel Standage for data storage and the Toth laboratory for feedback on the experiment and manuscript.


  • host - parasite interactions
  • social wasp
  • parasite manipulation
  • social caste
  • gene expression
  • eusociality


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