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Parental exposure to pathogens can result in increased response in their offspring

last modified Apr 09, 2020 03:36 PM
Nick Burton has just published a new studio on Nature Communications about how the response in parents to environmental stress, such as infections, can prime their offspring to better react to the same type of stress.

A parent’s exposure to environmental stresses, including pathogen infections, have been reported to prime offspring responses to repeated stress in diverse organisms ranging from plants to mammals. Collectively, these findings raise the exciting possibility that parental exposure to environmental stress causing programmed changes in offspring physiology might represent a fundamental and significantly understudied aspect of inheritance with implications for diverse fields of biological and medical sciences. However, the mechanisms by which these intergenerational responses to stress occur remain largely unknown.

In this study, Burton et al., identify a new bacterial pathogen of nematodes, Pseudomonas vranovensis and report that parental exposure to this pathogen can result in an up to 50-fold increase in offspring survival in response to future infection. They then go on to investigate the mechanism by which this intergenerational adaptation occurs and find that it requires signalling via an evolutionarily conserved stress response pathway and the expression of two cysteine synthase genes, cysl-1 and cysl-2, and the acyltransferase rhy-1. These findings establish a new and robust model to study how a parent’s environment can prime offspring stress responses and identify a novel mechanism by which an intergenerational response to pathogens can occur.