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Evidence for reduced immune gene diversity and activity during the evolution of termites

By Shulin He, Thorben Sieksmeyer, Yanli Che, M. Alejandra Esparza Mora, Petr Stiblik, Ronald Banasiak, Mark C Harrison, Jan Šobotník, Zongqing Wang, Paul R Johnston, Dino P. McMahon

Posted 10 Jul 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.07.09.192013

The evolution of biological complexity is associated with the emergence of bespoke immune systems that maintain and protect organism integrity. Unlike the well studied immunity at the cell and individual level, little is known about the origins of immunity during the transition to eusociality,a major evolutionary transition comparable to the evolution of multicellular organisms from single-celled ancestors. We tackle this by characterizing the immune gene repertoire of 18 cockroach and termite species, spanning the spectrum of solitary, subsocial and eusocial lifestyles. We identified five significant immune gene family contractions and one immune gene family expansion along the spine of a time-calibrated phylogeny, correlating with key transitions in termite sociality. In cross-species comparisons of immune gene expression, we find that termites appear to have evolved a caste-specific social defense system at the expense of individual immune protection. Our study indicates that a major transition in organismal complexity entailed a fundamental reshaping of the immune system optimized for group over individual defense. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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