Horizontal transmission of parthenogenesis–inducing microbes in Trichogramma wasps

Menno O. Schilthuizen, Richard Stouthamer


Complete parthenogenesis (thelytoky) in species of the parasitic wasp Trichogramma is usually caused by the cytoplasmically inherited bacterium Wolbachia. This symbiont induces gamete duplication, which, in these haplodiploid organisms, results in all–female broods. Antibiotic treatment ‘cures’ this condition, restoring normal sexual reproduction. Phylogenetic analysis of Wolbachia has shown that, in contrast with the strains in other host organisms (where the symbiont also induces different reproductive alterations), those in Trichogramma form a monophyletic group. This might be an indication of symbiont–host cocladogenesis. To test this, we performed comparative molecular phylogenetics on 20 parthenogenetic Trichogramma cultures and their Wolbachiae. We conclude that there is, in fact, little evidence for cocladogenesis. Instead, the phylogenetic distribution of the symbionts appears to result from occasional horizontal transmission, which probably takes place inside the hosts of Trichogramma parasitoids (usually lepidopteran eggs). This study therefore suggests that parthenogenesis is not only curable, it can sometimes be contagious also.

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