The red flour beetle as a model for bacterial oral infections
Milutinović B, Stolpe C, Peuβ R, Armitage SAO, Kurtz J – 2013
Experimental infection systems are important for studying antagonistic interactions and coevolution between hosts and their pathogens. The red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum and the spore-forming bacterial insect pathogen Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are widely used and tractable model organisms. However, they have not been employed yet as an efficient experimental system to study host-pathogen interactions. We used a high throughput oral infection protocol to infect T. castaneum insects with coleopteran specific B. thuringiensis bv. tenebrionis (Btt) bacteria. We found that larval mortality depends on the dietary spore concentration and on the duration of exposure to the spores. Furthermore, differential susceptibility of larvae from different T. castaneum populations indicates that the host genetic background influences infection success. The recovery of high numbers of infectious spores from the cadavers indicates successful replication of bacteria in the host and suggests that Btt could establish infectious cycles in T. castaneum in nature. We were able to transfer plasmids from Btt to a non-pathogenic but genetically well-characterised Bt strain, which was thereafter able to successfully infect T. castaneum, suggesting that factors residing on the plasmids are important for the virulence of Btt. The availability of a genetically accessible strain will provide an ideal model for more in-depth analyses of pathogenicity factors during oral infections. Combined with the availability of the full genome sequence of T. castaneum, this system will enable analyses of host responses during infection, as well as addressing basic questions concerning host-parasite coevolution.