Wolbachia Endosymbionts Responsible for Various Alterations of Sexuality in Arthropods

Francois Rousset, Didier Bouchon, Bernard Pintureau, Pierre Juchault, Michel Solignac


Rickettsia-like maternally inherited bacteria have been shown to be involved in a variety of alterations of arthropod sexuality, such as female-biased sex ratios, parthenogenesis, and sterility of crosses either between infected males and uninfected females or between infected individuals (cytoplasmic incompatibility). We have characterized several of these microorganisms through partial sequences of the small (16S) and large (23S) subunit ribosomal DNA. All the symbionts identified, which include several cytoplasmic incompatibility microorganisms, several endosymbionts of terrestrial isopods, and symbionts of two thelytokous Trichogramma wasp species, belong to a monophyletic group of related symbionts, some of which have previously been detected in several insects exhibiting cytoplasmic incompatibility. Three molecular lineages can be identified on the basis of 16S as well as 23S sequences. Although they are only known as endocellular symbionts, Wolbachia spread by horizontal transfer across host lineages as evidenced by their diversification which occurred long after that of their hosts, and by the non-congruence of the phylogenetic relationships of symbionts and their hosts. Indeed, symbionts of two different lineages have been found in the same host species, whereas closely related endosymbionts are found in distinct insect orders. Isopod endosymbionts form a separate lineage, and they can determine feminization as well as cytoplasmic incompatibility. The ability to determine cytoplasmic incompatibility, found in all lineages, is probably ancestral to this group.

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