- Mukherjee K. (2019) Epigenetic mechanisms mediate the experimental evolution of resistance against parasitic fungi in the greater wax moth Galleria mellonella. Scientific Reports 9(1), 1626.
Recent concepts in evolutionary biology suggest that epigenetic mechanisms can translate environmental selection pressures into heritable changes in phenotype. To determine whether experimental selection for a complex trait in insects involves epigenetic modifications, we carried out a generation-spanning experiment using larvae of the greater wax moth Galleria mellonella as a model host to investigate the role of epigenetics in the heritability of resistance against the parasitic fungus Metarhizium robertsii. We investigated differences in DNA methylation, histone acetylation and microRNA (miRNA) expression between an experimentally resistant population and an unselected, susceptible line, revealing that the survival of G. mellonella larvae infected with M. robertsii correlates with tissue-specific changes in DNA methylation and histone modification and the modulation of genes encoding the corresponding enzymes. We also identified miRNAs differentially expressed between resistant and susceptible larvae and showed that these regulatory molecules target genes encoding proteinases and proteinase inhibitors, as well as genes related to cuticle composition, innate immunity and metabolism. These results support our hypothesis that epigenetic mechanisms facilitate, at least in part, the heritable manifestation of parasite resistance in insects. The reciprocal adaptations underlying host–parasite coevolution therefore extend beyond the genetic level to encompass epigenetic modifications.