Exploring changes in social spider DNA methylation profiles when succumbing to infection in CpG, CHG, and CHH contexts

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Exploring changes in social spider DNA methylation profiles when succumbing to infection in CpG, CHG, and CHH contexts

Authors

Fisher, D. N.; Bechsgaard, J.; Bilde, T.

Abstract

Living at high density and with low genetic diversity are factors that should both increase the susceptibility of organisms to disease. Therefore, group living organisms, especially those that are inbred, should be especially vulnerable to infection and therefore have particular strategies to cope with infection. Phenotypic plasticity, underpinned by epigenetic changes, could allow group living organisms to rapidly respond to infection challenges. To explore the potential role of epigenetic modifications in the immune response to a group-living species with low genetic diversity, we compared the genome-wide DNA methylation profiles of five colonies of social spiders (Stegodyphus dumicola) in their natural habitat in Namibia at the point just before they succumbed to infection to a point at least six months previously where they were presumably healthier. We found increases in genome- and chromosome-wide methylation levels in the CpG, CHG, and CHH contexts, although the genome-wide changes were not clearly different from zero. These changes were most prominent in the CHG context, especially at a narrow region of chromosome 13, hinting at an as-of-yet unsuspected role of this DNA methylation context in phenotypic plasticity. However, there were few clear patterns of differential methylation at the base level, and genes with a known immune function in spiders had mean methylation changes close to zero. Our results suggest that DNA methylation may change with infection at large genomic scales, but that this type of epigenetic change is not necessarily integral to the immune response of social spiders.

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