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1.  Cuticular Antifungals in Spiders: Density- and Condition Dependence 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e91785.
Animals living in groups face a high risk of disease contagion. In many arthropod species, cuticular antimicrobials constitute the first protective barrier that prevents infections. Here we report that group-living spiders produce cuticular chemicals which inhibit fungal growth. Given that cuticular antifungals may be costly to produce, we explored whether they can be modulated according to the risk of contagion (i.e. under high densities). For this purpose, we quantified cuticular antifungal activity in the subsocial crab spider Diaea ergandros in both natural nests and experimentally manipulated nests of varying density. We quantified the body-condition of spiders to test whether antifungal activity is condition dependent, as well as the effect of spider density on body-condition. We predicted cuticular antifungal activity to increase and body-condition to decrease with high spider densities, and that antifungal activity would be inversely related to body-condition. Contrary to our predictions, antifungal activity was neither density- nor condition-dependent. However, body-condition decreased with density in natural nests, but increased in experimental nests. We suggest that pathogen pressure is so important in nature that it maintains high levels of cuticular antifungal activity in spiders, impacting negatively on individual energetic condition. Future studies should identify the chemical structure of the isolated antifungal compounds in order to understand the physiological basis of a trade-off between disease prevention and energetic condition caused by group living, and its consequences in the evolution of sociality in spiders.
PMCID: PMC3956717  PMID: 24637563
2.  Nutritional Immunology: A Multi-Dimensional Approach 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(12):e1002223.
PMCID: PMC3228798  PMID: 22144886
3.  Assessment and validation of a suite of reverse transcription-quantitative PCR reference genes for analyses of density-dependent behavioural plasticity in the Australian plague locust 
The Australian plague locust, Chortoicetes terminifera, is among the most promising species to unravel the suites of genes underling the density-dependent shift from shy and cryptic solitarious behaviour to the highly active and aggregating gregarious behaviour that is characteristic of locusts. This is because it lacks many of the major phenotypic changes in colour and morphology that accompany phase change in other locust species. Reverse transcription-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) is the most sensitive method available for determining changes in gene expression. However, to accurately monitor the expression of target genes, it is essential to select an appropriate normalization strategy to control for non-specific variation between samples. Here we identify eight potential reference genes and examine their expression stability at different rearing density treatments in neural tissue of the Australian plague locust.
Taking advantage of the new orthologous DNA sequences available in locusts, we developed primers for genes encoding 18SrRNA, ribosomal protein L32 (RpL32), armadillo (Arm), actin 5C (Actin), succinate dehydrogenase (SDHa), glyceraldehyde-3P-dehydrogenase (GAPDH), elongation factor 1 alpha (EF1a) and annexin IX (AnnIX). The relative transcription levels of these eight genes were then analyzed in three treatment groups differing in rearing density (isolated, short- and long-term crowded), each made up of five pools of four neural tissue samples from 5th instar nymphs. SDHa and GAPDH, which are both involved in metabolic pathways, were identified as the least stable in expression levels, challenging their usefulness in normalization. Based on calculations performed with the geNorm and NormFinder programs, the best combination of two genes for normalization of gene expression data following crowding in the Australian plague locust was EF1a and Arm. We applied their use to studying a target gene that encodes a Ca2+ binding glycoprotein, SPARC, which was previously found to be up-regulated in brains of gregarious desert locusts, Schistocerca gregaria. Interestingly, expression of this gene did not vary with rearing density in the same way in brains of the two locust species. Unlike S. gregaria, there was no effect of any crowding treatment in the Australian plague locust.
Arm and EF1a is the most stably expressed combination of two reference genes of the eight examined for reliable normalization of RT-qPCR assays studying density-dependent behavioural change in the Australian plague locust. Such normalization allowed us to show that C. terminifera crowding did not change the neuronal expression of the SPARC gene, a gregarious phase-specific gene identified in brains of the desert locust, S. gregaria. Such comparative results on density-dependent gene regulation provide insights into the evolution of gregarious behaviour and mass migration of locusts. The eight identified genes we evaluated are also candidates as normalization genes for use in experiments involving other Oedipodinae species, but the rank order of gene stability must necessarily be determined on a case-by-case basis.
PMCID: PMC3048552  PMID: 21324174
4.  Water-seeking behavior in worm-infected crickets and reversibility of parasitic manipulation 
Behavioral Ecology  2011;22(2):392-400.
One of the most fascinating examples of parasite-induced host manipulation is that of hairworms, first, because they induce a spectacular “suicide” water-seeking behavior in their terrestrial insect hosts and, second, because the emergence of the parasite is not lethal per se for the host that can live several months following parasite release. The mechanisms hairworms use to increase the encounter rate between their host and water remain, however, poorly understood. Considering the selective landscape in which nematomorph manipulation has evolved as well as previously obtained proteomics data, we predicted that crickets harboring mature hairworms would display a modified behavioral response to light. Since following parasite emergence in water, the cricket host and parasitic worm do not interact physiologically anymore, we also predicted that the host would recover from the modified behaviors. We examined the effect of hairworm infection on different behavioral responses of the host when stimulated by light to record responses from uninfected, infected, and ex-infected crickets. We showed that hairworm infection fundamentally modifies cricket behavior by inducing directed responses to light, a condition from which they mostly recover once the parasite is released. This study supports the idea that host manipulation by parasites is subtle, complex, and multidimensional.
PMCID: PMC3071748  PMID: 22476265
behavior; insects; nematomorph; parasite manipulation; parasitism; phototaxis

Results 1-4 (4)