PhD Projects » ESR 4: Experimental evolution of Deformed wing virus in bees

Host institution:
Free University of Berlin (FU Berlin), Germany
Local supervisor:
Prof. Dr. Dino McMahon (FU Berlin)
Local co-supervisor:
Prof. Dr. Bernhard Renard (FU Berlin and HPI Potsdam)
Project partner:
ESR 3, ESR 8
Work packages:
WP 1.3 Virus-host interactions
WP 2.1 Microevolution: Virus quasispecies
WP 2.2 Macroevolution: Natural selection of viruses

This project seeks to understand the evolution and impact of virus virulence. The honeybee virus Deformed wing virus (DWV) is an emerging pathogen that is responsible for widespread declines of honeybees in the Northern hemisphere. The impact of the virus has been exacerbated by the arrival of an ectoparasitic mite: Varroa destructor, which can vector the virus.

In this project, we have the following objectives:

  • Carry out in vivo evolution experiments of viruses by serially passaging DWV in the honey bee, Apis mellifera, to investigate the role of transmission and recombination on virus virulence adaptation.
  • Analyze and compare the transcriptional responses in hosts to experimentally evolved viruses. We will focus on up-regulation of RNAi machinery and candidate pathways in canonical insect immune pathways, e.g. Toll pathway, to understand how changes in virulence associated with experimental evolution affect host immune response. This will be done in collaboration with ESR 9.
  • Measure viral phenotypes (virus growth, mortality, host transcriptional responses) (N=4 treatments, each consisting of 10 serial passages, and N=5 replicate lines per treatment), for genotype/phenotype mapping to be carried out by ESR 8. This will enable us to understand how transmission and recombination impact DWV virulence evolution at the genotypic level.

We will carry out bioinformatic analyses in collaboration with ESR 8, ESR 3 and Allgenetics to develop methods of identifying evolving and co-evolving sites and epistatic interactions across viral genomes. Together, our study will help to understand the evolutionary drivers of virus spread and damage in bee hosts that are of major economic and ecological importance.