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1.  Population Genomics of the Wolbachia Endosymbiont in Drosophila melanogaster 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(12):e1003129.
Wolbachia are maternally inherited symbiotic bacteria, commonly found in arthropods, which are able to manipulate the reproduction of their host in order to maximise their transmission. The evolutionary history of endosymbionts like Wolbachia can be revealed by integrating information on infection status in natural populations with patterns of sequence variation in Wolbachia and host mitochondrial genomes. Here we use whole-genome resequencing data from 290 lines of Drosophila melanogaster from North America, Europe, and Africa to predict Wolbachia infection status, estimate relative cytoplasmic genome copy number, and reconstruct Wolbachia and mitochondrial genome sequences. Overall, 63% of Drosophila strains were predicted to be infected with Wolbachia by our in silico analysis pipeline, which shows 99% concordance with infection status determined by diagnostic PCR. Complete Wolbachia and mitochondrial genomes show congruent phylogenies, consistent with strict vertical transmission through the maternal cytoplasm and imperfect transmission of Wolbachia. Bayesian phylogenetic analysis reveals that the most recent common ancestor of all Wolbachia and mitochondrial genomes in D. melanogaster dates to around 8,000 years ago. We find evidence for a recent global replacement of ancestral Wolbachia and mtDNA lineages, but our data suggest that the derived wMel lineage arose several thousand years ago, not in the 20th century as previously proposed. Our data also provide evidence that this global replacement event is incomplete and is likely to be one of several similar incomplete replacement events that have occurred since the out-of-Africa migration that allowed D. melanogaster to colonize worldwide habitats. This study provides a complete genomic analysis of the evolutionary mode and temporal dynamics of the D. melanogaster–Wolbachia symbiosis, as well as important resources for further analyses of the impact of Wolbachia on host biology.
Author Summary
Host–microbe interactions play important roles in the physiology, development, and ecology of many organisms. Studying how hosts and their microbial symbionts evolve together over time is crucial for understanding the impact that microbes have on host biology. With the advent of high-throughput sequencing technologies, it is now possible to obtain complete genomic information for hosts and their associated microbes. Here we use whole-genome sequences from ∼300 strains of the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster to reveal the evolutionary history of this model species and its intracellular bacterial symbiont Wolbachia. The major findings of this study are that Wolbachia in D. melanogaster is inherited strictly through the egg with no evidence of horizontal transfer from other species, that the genealogies of Wolbachia and mitochondrial genomes are virtually the same, and that both Wolbachia and mitochondrial genomes show evidence for a recent incomplete global replacement event, which has left remnant lineages in North America, Europe, and Africa. We also use the fact that Wolbachia and mitochondrial genomes have the same genealogy to estimate the rate of molecular evolution for Wolbachia, which allows us to put dates on key events in the history of this important host–microbe model system.
PMCID: PMC3527207  PMID: 23284297
2.  Phylogenetic Relationships of the Wolbachia of Nematodes and Arthropods 
PLoS Pathogens  2006;2(10):e94.
Wolbachia are well known as bacterial symbionts of arthropods, where they are reproductive parasites, but have also been described from nematode hosts, where the symbiotic interaction has features of mutualism. The majority of arthropod Wolbachia belong to clades A and B, while nematode Wolbachia mostly belong to clades C and D, but these relationships have been based on analysis of a small number of genes. To investigate the evolution and relationships of Wolbachia symbionts we have sequenced over 70 kb of the genome of wOvo, a Wolbachia from the human-parasitic nematode Onchocerca volvulus, and compared the genes identified to orthologues in other sequenced Wolbachia genomes. In comparisons of conserved local synteny, we find that wBm, from the nematode Brugia malayi, and wMel, from Drosophila melanogaster, are more similar to each other than either is to wOvo. Phylogenetic analysis of the protein-coding and ribosomal RNA genes on the sequenced fragments supports reciprocal monophyly of nematode and arthropod Wolbachia. The nematode Wolbachia did not arise from within the A clade of arthropod Wolbachia, and the root of the Wolbachia clade lies between the nematode and arthropod symbionts. Using the wOvo sequence, we identified a lateral transfer event whereby segments of the Wolbachia genome were inserted into the Onchocerca nuclear genome. This event predated the separation of the human parasite O. volvulus from its cattle-parasitic sister species, O. ochengi. The long association between filarial nematodes and Wolbachia symbionts may permit more frequent genetic exchange between their genomes.
Filarial nematode worms cause hundreds of millions of cases of disease in humans worldwide. As part of efforts to identify new drug targets in these parasites, the Filarial Genome Project rediscovered that these worms carry within them a symbiotic bacterium, which may be a novel target. Fenn et al. investigated the relationships of these bacteria, from the genus Wolbachia, to those previously identified in arthropods using a new dataset of genome sequence data from the human parasite Onchocerca volvulus. O. volvulus causes river blindness in West Africa. The authors found that the Wolbachia strains found in nematodes are more closely related to each other than they are to the Wolbachia in insects, suggesting that the nematodes and their bacterial partners have been coevolving for some considerable evolutionary time and may indeed be good targets. In addition, the authors identified a fragment of Wolbachia DNA that was inserted in the genome of its nematode host and has subsequently degenerated. The insertion occurred before O. volvulus diverged from another nematode species, O. ochengi, found in cattle.
PMCID: PMC1599763  PMID: 17040125
3.  Diversifying selection and host adaptation in two endosymbiont genomes 
The endosymbiont Wolbachia pipientis infects a broad range of arthropod and filarial nematode hosts. These diverse associations form an attractive model for understanding host:symbiont coevolution. Wolbachia's ubiquity and ability to dramatically alter host reproductive biology also form the foundation of research strategies aimed at controlling insect pests and vector-borne disease. The Wolbachia strains that infect nematodes are phylogenetically distinct, strictly vertically transmitted, and required by their hosts for growth and reproduction. Insects in contrast form more fluid associations with Wolbachia. In these taxa, host populations are most often polymorphic for infection, horizontal transmission occurs between distantly related hosts, and direct fitness effects on hosts are mild. Despite extensive interest in the Wolbachia system for many years, relatively little is known about the molecular mechanisms that mediate its varied interactions with different hosts. We have compared the genomes of the Wolbachia that infect Drosophila melanogaster, wMel and the nematode Brugia malayi, wBm to that of an outgroup Anaplasma marginale to identify genes that have experienced diversifying selection in the Wolbachia lineages. The goal of the study was to identify likely molecular mechanisms of the symbiosis and to understand the nature of the diverse association across different hosts.
The prevalence of selection was far greater in wMel than wBm. Genes contributing to DNA metabolism, cofactor biosynthesis, and secretion were positively selected in both lineages. In wMel there was a greater emphasis on DNA repair, cell division, protein stability, and cell envelope synthesis.
Secretion pathways and outer surface protein encoding genes are highly affected by selection in keeping with host:parasite theory. If evidence of selection on various cofactor molecules reflects possible provisioning, then both insect as well as nematode Wolbachia may be providing substances to hosts. Selection on cell envelope synthesis, DNA replication and repair machinery, heat shock, and two component switching suggest strategies insect Wolbachia may employ to cope with diverse host and intra-host environments.
PMCID: PMC1868728  PMID: 17470297
4.  The Heme Biosynthetic Pathway of the Obligate Wolbachia Endosymbiont of Brugia malayi as a Potential Anti-filarial Drug Target 
Filarial parasites (e.g., Brugia malayi, Onchocerca volvulus, and Wuchereria bancrofti) are causative agents of lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis, which are among the most disabling of neglected tropical diseases. There is an urgent need to develop macro-filaricidal drugs, as current anti-filarial chemotherapy (e.g., diethylcarbamazine [DEC], ivermectin and albendazole) can interrupt transmission predominantly by killing microfilariae (mf) larvae, but is less effective on adult worms, which can live for decades in the human host. All medically relevant human filarial parasites appear to contain an obligate endosymbiotic bacterium, Wolbachia. This alpha-proteobacterial mutualist has been recognized as a potential target for filarial nematode life cycle intervention, as antibiotic treatments of filarial worms harboring Wolbachia result in the loss of worm fertility and viability upon antibiotic treatments both in vitro and in vivo. Human trials have confirmed this approach, although the length of treatments, high doses required and medical counter-indications for young children and pregnant women warrant the identification of additional anti-Wolbachia drugs.
Methods and Findings
Genome sequence analysis indicated that enzymes involved in heme biosynthesis might constitute a potential anti-Wolbachia target set. We tested different heme biosynthetic pathway inhibitors in ex vivo B. malayi viability assays and report a specific effect of N-methyl mesoporphyrin (NMMP), which targets ferrochelatase (FC, the last step). Our phylogenetic analysis indicates evolutionarily significant divergence between Wolbachia heme genes and their human homologues. We therefore undertook the cloning, overexpression and analysis of several enzymes of this pathway alongside their human homologues, and prepared proteins for drug targeting. In vitro enzyme assays revealed a ∼600-fold difference in drug sensitivities to succinyl acetone (SA) between Wolbachia and human 5′-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase (ALAD, the second step). Similarly, Escherichia coli hemH (FC) deficient strains transformed with human and Wolbachia FC homologues showed significantly different sensitivities to NMMP. This approach enables functional complementation in E. coli heme deficient mutants as an alternative E. coli-based method for drug screening.
Our studies indicate that the heme biosynthetic genes in the Wolbachia of B. malayi (wBm) might be essential for the filarial host survival. In addition, the results suggest they are likely candidate drug targets based upon significant differences in phylogenetic distance, biochemical properties and sensitivities to heme biosynthesis inhibitors, as compared to their human homologues.
Author Summary
Human filarial nematodes are causative agents of elephantiasis and African river blindness, which are among the most debilitating tropical diseases. Currently used drugs mainly affect microfilariae (mf) and have less effect on adult filarial nematodes, which can live in the human host for more than a decade. Filariasis drug control strategy relies on recurrent mass drug administration for many years. Development of novel drugs is also urgently needed due to the threat of drug resistance occurrence. Most filarial worms harbor an obligate endosymbiotic bacterium, Wolbachia, whose presence has been identified as a potential drug target. Comparative genomics had suggested Wolbachia heme biosynthesis as a potential drug target, and we present an analysis of selected enzymes alongside their human homologues from several different aspects—gene phylogenetic analyses, in vitro enzyme kinetic and inhibition assays and heme-deficient E. coli complementation assays. We also conducted ex vivo Brugia malayi viability assays using heme pathway inhibitors. These experiments demonstrate that heme biosynthesis could be critical for filarial worm survival and thus is a potential anti-filarial drug target set.
PMCID: PMC2703803  PMID: 19597542
5.  The Wolbachia Genome of Brugia malayi: Endosymbiont Evolution within a Human Pathogenic Nematode 
PLoS Biology  2005;3(4):e121.
Complete genome DNA sequence and analysis is presented for Wolbachia, the obligate alpha-proteobacterial endosymbiont required for fertility and survival of the human filarial parasitic nematode Brugia malayi. Although, quantitatively, the genome is even more degraded than those of closely related Rickettsia species, Wolbachia has retained more intact metabolic pathways. The ability to provide riboflavin, flavin adenine dinucleotide, heme, and nucleotides is likely to be Wolbachia's principal contribution to the mutualistic relationship, whereas the host nematode likely supplies amino acids required for Wolbachia growth. Genome comparison of the Wolbachia endosymbiont of B. malayi (wBm) with the Wolbachia endosymbiont of Drosophila melanogaster (wMel) shows that they share similar metabolic trends, although their genomes show a high degree of genome shuffling. In contrast to wMel, wBm contains no prophage and has a reduced level of repeated DNA. Both Wolbachia have lost a considerable number of membrane biogenesis genes that apparently make them unable to synthesize lipid A, the usual component of proteobacterial membranes. However, differences in their peptidoglycan structures may reflect the mutualistic lifestyle of wBm in contrast to the parasitic lifestyle of wMel. The smaller genome size of wBm, relative to wMel, may reflect the loss of genes required for infecting host cells and avoiding host defense systems. Analysis of this first sequenced endosymbiont genome from a filarial nematode provides insight into endosymbiont evolution and additionally provides new potential targets for elimination of cutaneous and lymphatic human filarial disease.
Analysis of this Wolbachia genome, which resides within filarial parasites, offers insight into endosymbiont evolution and the promise of new strategies for the elimination of human filarial disease
PMCID: PMC1069646  PMID: 15780005
6.  Evolutionary history of Wolbachia infections in the fire ant Solenopsis invicta 
Wolbachia are endosymbiotic bacteria that commonly infect numerous arthropods. Despite their broad taxonomic distribution, the transmission patterns of these bacteria within and among host species are not well understood. We sequenced a portion of the wsp gene from the Wolbachia genome infecting 138 individuals from eleven geographically distributed native populations of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. We then compared these wsp sequence data to patterns of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation of both infected and uninfected host individuals to infer the transmission patterns of Wolbachia in S. invicta.
Three different Wolbachia (wsp) variants occur within S. invicta, all of which are identical to previously described strains in fire ants. A comparison of the distribution of Wolbachia variants within S. invicta to a phylogeny of mtDNA haplotypes suggests S. invicta has acquired Wolbachia infections on at least three independent occasions. One common Wolbachia variant in S. invicta (wSinvictaB) is associated with two divergent mtDNA haplotype clades. Further, within each of these clades, Wolbachia-infected and uninfected individuals possess virtually identical subsets of mtDNA haplotypes, including both putative derived and ancestral mtDNA haplotypes. The same pattern also holds for wSinvictaA, where at least one and as many as three invasions into S. invicta have occurred. These data suggest that the initial invasions of Wolbachia into host ant populations may be relatively ancient and have been followed by multiple secondary losses of Wolbachia in different infected lineages over time. Finally, our data also provide additional insights into the factors responsible for previously reported variation in Wolbachia prevalence among S. invicta populations.
The history of Wolbachia infections in S. invicta is rather complex and involves multiple invasions or horizontal transmission events of Wolbachia into this species. Although these Wolbachia infections apparently have been present for relatively long time periods, these data clearly indicate that Wolbachia infections frequently have been secondarily lost within different lineages. Importantly, the uncoupled transmission of the Wolbachia and mtDNA genomes suggests that the presumed effects of Wolbachia on mtDNA evolution within S. invicta are less severe than originally predicted. Thus, the common concern that use of mtDNA markers for studying the evolutionary history of insects is confounded by maternally inherited endosymbionts such as Wolbachia may be somewhat unwarranted in the case of S. invicta.
PMCID: PMC1175846  PMID: 15927071
7.  Palaeosymbiosis Revealed by Genomic Fossils of Wolbachia in a Strongyloidean Nematode 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(6):e1004397.
Wolbachia are common endosymbionts of terrestrial arthropods, and are also found in nematodes: the animal-parasitic filaria, and the plant-parasite Radopholus similis. Lateral transfer of Wolbachia DNA to the host genome is common. We generated a draft genome sequence for the strongyloidean nematode parasite Dictyocaulus viviparus, the cattle lungworm. In the assembly, we identified nearly 1 Mb of sequence with similarity to Wolbachia. The fragments were unlikely to derive from a live Wolbachia infection: most were short, and the genes were disabled through inactivating mutations. Many fragments were co-assembled with definitively nematode-derived sequence. We found limited evidence of expression of the Wolbachia-derived genes. The D. viviparus Wolbachia genes were most similar to filarial strains and strains from the host-promiscuous clade F. We conclude that D. viviparus was infected by Wolbachia in the past, and that clade F-like symbionts may have been the source of filarial Wolbachia infections.
Author Summary
Bovine lungworms are economically important nematode parasites of cattle. We have sequenced the genome of the bovine lungworm to provide information for drug and vaccine discovery. Within the lungworm genome we found extensive evidence of an ancient association between the lungworm and a bacterium called Wolbachia. The lungworm Wolbachia is now a “fossil” in the genome, but tells of an ancient infection. Association between lungworms, and related nematode worms, and Wolbachia was not known previously. We have used the lungworm Wolbachia sequence to explore the history of nematode-Wolbachia interactions, particularly the jumping of these symbionts between arthropods and nematodes.
PMCID: PMC4046930  PMID: 24901418
8.  Diversity and evolution of the Wolbachia endosymbionts of Bemisia (Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae) whiteflies 
Ecology and Evolution  2014;4(13):2714-2737.
Wolbachia is the most prevalent symbiont described in arthropods to date. Wolbachia can manipulate host reproduction, provide nutrition to insect hosts and protect insect hosts from pathogenic viruses. So far, 13 supergroups of Wolbachia have been identified. The whitefly Bemisia tabaci is a complex containing more than 28 morphologically indistinguishable cryptic species. Some cryptic species of this complex are invasive. In this study, we report a comprehensive survey of Wolbachia in B. tabaci and its relative B. afer from 1658 insects representing 54 populations across 13 provinces of China and one state of Australia. Based on the results of PCR or sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene, the overall rates of Wolbachia infection were 79.6% and 0.96% in the indigenous and invasive Bemisia whiteflies, respectively. We detected a new Wolbachia supergroup by sequencing five molecular marker genes including 16S rRNA, groEL, gltA, hcpA, and fbpA genes. Data showed that many protein-coding genes have limitations in detecting and classifying newly identified Wolbachia supergroups and thus raise a challenge to the known Wolbachia MLST standard analysis system. Besides, the other Wolbachia strains detected from whiteflies were clustered into supergroup B. Phylogenetic trees of whitefly mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase subunit I and Wolbachia multiple sequencing typing genes were not congruent. In addition, Wolbachia was also detected outside the special bacteriocytes in two cryptic species by fluorescence in situ hybridization, indicating the horizontal transmission of Wolbachia. Our results indicate that members of Wolbachia are far from well explored.
PMCID: PMC4113295  PMID: 25077022
Bemisia tabaci; FISH; horizontal transmission; multilocus sequence typing; vertical transmission; whiteflies; Wolbachia
9.  Wolbachia-Mediated Antibacterial Protection and Immune Gene Regulation in Drosophila 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e25430.
The outcome of microbial infection of insects is dependent not only on interactions between the host and pathogen, but also on the interactions between microbes that co-infect the host. Recently the maternally inherited endosymbiotic bacteria Wolbachia has been shown to protect insects from a range of microbial and eukaryotic pathogens. Mosquitoes experimentally infected with Wolbachia have upregulated immune responses and are protected from a number of pathogens including viruses, bacteria, Plasmodium and filarial nematodes. It has been hypothesised that immune upregulation underpins Wolbachia-mediated protection. Drosophila is a strong model for understanding host-Wolbachia-pathogen interactions. Wolbachia-mediated antiviral protection in Drosophila has been demonstrated for a number of different Wolbachia strains. In this study we investigate whether Wolbachia-infected flies are also protected against pathogenic bacteria. Drosophila simulans lines infected with five different Wolbachia strains were challenged with the pathogenic bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa PA01, Serratia marcescens and Erwinia carotovora and mortality compared to paired lines without Wolbachia. No difference in mortality was observed in the flies with or without Wolbachia. Similarly no antibacterial protection was observed for D. melanogaster infected with Wolbachia. Interestingly, D. melanogaster Oregon RC flies which are naturally infected with Wolbachia showed no upregulation of the antibacterial immune genes TepIV, Defensin, Diptericin B, PGRP-SD, Cecropin A1 and Attacin D compared to paired flies without Wolbachia. Taken together these results indicate that Wolbachia-mediated antibacterial protection is not ubiquitous in insects and furthermore that the mechanisms of antibacterial and antiviral protection are independent. We suggest that the immune priming and antibacterial protection observed in Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes may be a consequence of the recent artificial introduction of the symbiont into insects that normally do not carry Wolbachia and that antibacterial protection is unlikely to be found in insects carrying long-term Wolbachia infections.
PMCID: PMC3183045  PMID: 21980455
10.  Differentially expressed profiles in the larval testes of Wolbachia infected and uninfected Drosophila 
BMC Genomics  2011;12:595.
Wolbachia are endosymbiotic bacteria that are frequently found in arthropods and nematodes. These maternally inherited bacteria manipulate host reproduction by several mechanisms including cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI). CI is the most common phenotype induced by Wolbachia and results in the developmental arrest of embryos derived from crosses between Wolbachia-infected males and uninfected females. Although the molecular mechanisms of CI are currently unknown, several studies suggest that host sperm is modified by Wolbachia during spermatogenesis.
We compared the gene expression of Drosophila melanogaster larval testes with and without the wMel strain of Wolbachia to identify candidate genes that could be involved in the interaction between Wolbachia and the insect host. Microarray, quantitative RT-PCR and in situ hybridization analyses were carried out on D. melanogaster larval testes to determine the effect of Wolbachia infection on host gene expression. A total of 296 genes were identified by microarray analysis to have at least a 1.5 fold change [q-value < 5%] in expression. When comparing Wolbachia-infected flies to uninfected flies, 167 genes were up-regulated and 129 genes down-regulated. Differential expression of genes related to metabolism, immunity, reproduction and other functions were observed. Quantitative RT-PCR (qRT-PCR) confirmed 12 genes are differentially expressed in the testes of the 3rd instar larvae of Wolbachia-infected and uninfected flies. In situ hybridization demonstrated that Wolbachia infection changes the expression of several genes putatively associated with spermatogenesis including JH induced protein-26 and Mst84Db, or involved in immune (kenny) or metabolism (CG4988-RA).
Wolbachia change the gene expression of 296 genes in the larval testes of D. melanogaster including genes related to metabolism, immunity and reproduction. Interestingly, most of the genes putatively involved in immunity were up-regulated in the presence of Wolbachia. In contrast, most of the genes putatively associated with reproduction (especially spermatogenesis) were down-regulated in the presence of Wolbachia. These results suggest Wolbachia may activate the immune pathway but inhibit spermatogenesis. Our data provide a significant panel of candidate genes that may be involved in the interaction between Wolbachia and their insect hosts. This forms a basis to help elucidate the underlying mechanisms of Wolbachia-induced CI in Drosophila and the influence of Wolbachia on spermatogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3261232  PMID: 22145623
11.  Transcriptional Regulation of Culex pipiens Mosquitoes by Wolbachia Influences Cytoplasmic Incompatibility 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(10):e1003647.
Cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI) induced by the endosymbiont Wolbachia pipientis causes complex patterns of crossing sterility between populations of the Culex pipiens group of mosquitoes. The molecular basis of the phenotype is yet to be defined. In order to investigate what host changes may underlie CI at the molecular level, we examined the transcription of a homolog of the Drosophila melanogaster gene grauzone that encodes a zinc finger protein and acts as a regulator of female meiosis, in which mutations can cause sterility. Upregulation was observed in Wolbachia-infected C. pipiens group individuals relative to Wolbachia-cured lines and the level of upregulation differed between lines that were reproductively incompatible. Knockdown analysis of this gene using RNAi showed an effect on hatch rates in a Wolbachia infected Culex molestus line. Furthermore, in later stages of development an effect on developmental progression in CI embryos occurs in bidirectionally incompatible crosses. The genome of a wPip Wolbachia strain variant from Culex molestus was sequenced and compared with the genome of a wPip variant with which it was incompatible. Three genes in inserted or deleted regions were newly identified in the C. molestus wPip genome, one of which is a transcriptional regulator labelled wtrM. When this gene was transfected into adult Culex mosquitoes, upregulation of the grauzone homolog was observed. These data suggest that Wolbachia-mediated regulation of host gene expression is a component of the mechanism of cytoplasmic incompatibility.
Author Summary
Wolbachia are maternally inherited bacteria that manipulate invertebrate reproduction. Cytoplasmic incompatibility is embryo death that occurs when males carrying Wolbachia mate with females that do not, or that carry a different Wolbachia variant; its mechanism is poorly understood. In Culex mosquitoes, in the presence of Wolbachia a gene related to a Drosophila melanogaster gene, grauzone, which has been shown to act as a regulator of the meiotic cell cycle, showed an elevated level of expression. When lower levels of expression were achieved through RNA interference, embryo hatch rates were affected and the stage of development at which embryo death occurs was altered. To find Wolbachia genes that influence cytoplasmic incompatibility, we compared the genomes of two variants of Wolbachia from Culex that produce cytoplasmic incompatibility with one another. Although most segments of these genomes were very similar, one newly identified gene is predicted to be a regulator of gene transcription. We cloned this gene into a plasmid, expressed it in adult mosquitoes and found higher levels of expression of the Culex grauzone homolog. This suggests that the Wolbachia transcriptional regulator may play an important role in manipulating the host in order to induce cytoplasmic incompatibility.
PMCID: PMC3814344  PMID: 24204251
12.  Detection and characterization of Wolbachia infections in laboratory and natural populations of different species of tsetse flies (genus Glossina) 
BMC Microbiology  2012;12(Suppl 1):S3.
Wolbachia is a genus of endosymbiotic α-Proteobacteria infecting a wide range of arthropods and filarial nematodes. Wolbachia is able to induce reproductive abnormalities such as cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI), thelytokous parthenogenesis, feminization and male killing, thus affecting biology, ecology and evolution of its hosts. The bacterial group has prompted research regarding its potential for the control of agricultural and medical disease vectors, including Glossina spp., which transmits African trypanosomes, the causative agents of sleeping sickness in humans and nagana in animals.
In the present study, we employed a Wolbachia specific 16S rRNA PCR assay to investigate the presence of Wolbachia in six different laboratory stocks as well as in natural populations of nine different Glossina species originating from 10 African countries. Wolbachia was prevalent in Glossina morsitans morsitans, G. morsitans centralis and G. austeni populations. It was also detected in G. brevipalpis, and, for the first time, in G. pallidipes and G. palpalis gambiensis. On the other hand, Wolbachia was not found in G. p. palpalis, G. fuscipes fuscipes and G. tachinoides. Wolbachia infections of different laboratory and natural populations of Glossina species were characterized using 16S rRNA, the wsp (Wolbachia Surface Protein) gene and MLST (Multi Locus Sequence Typing) gene markers. This analysis led to the detection of horizontal gene transfer events, in which Wobachia genes were inserted into the tsetse flies fly nuclear genome.
Wolbachia infections were detected in both laboratory and natural populations of several different Glossina species. The characterization of these Wolbachia strains promises to lead to a deeper insight in tsetse flies-Wolbachia interactions, which is essential for the development and use of Wolbachia-based biological control methods.
PMCID: PMC3287514  PMID: 22376025
13.  Comparing the mitochondrial genomes of Wolbachia-dependent and independent filarial nematode species 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:145.
Many species of filarial nematodes depend on Wolbachia endobacteria to carry out their life cycle. Other species are naturally Wolbachia-free. The biological mechanisms underpinning Wolbachia-dependence and independence in filarial nematodes are not known. Previous studies have indicated that Wolbachia have an impact on mitochondrial gene expression, which may suggest a role in energy metabolism. If Wolbachia can supplement host energy metabolism, reduced mitochondrial function in infected filarial species may account for Wolbachia-dependence. Wolbachia also have a strong influence on mitochondrial evolution due to vertical co-transmission. This could drive alterations in mitochondrial genome sequence in infected species. Comparisons between the mitochondrial genome sequences of Wolbachia-dependent and independent filarial worms may reveal differences indicative of altered mitochondrial function.
The mitochondrial genomes of 5 species of filarial nematodes, Acanthocheilonema viteae, Chandlerella quiscali, Loa loa, Onchocerca flexuosa, and Wuchereria bancrofti, were sequenced, annotated and compared with available mitochondrial genome sequences from Brugia malayi, Dirofilaria immitis, Onchocerca volvulus and Setaria digitata. B. malayi, D. immitis, O. volvulus and W. bancrofti are Wolbachia-dependent while A. viteae, C. quiscali, L. loa, O. flexuosa and S. digitata are Wolbachia-free. The 9 mitochondrial genomes were similar in size and AT content and encoded the same 12 protein-coding genes, 22 tRNAs and 2 rRNAs. Synteny was perfectly preserved in all species except C. quiscali, which had a different order for 5 tRNA genes. Protein-coding genes were expressed at the RNA level in all examined species. In phylogenetic trees based on mitochondrial protein-coding sequences, species did not cluster according to Wolbachia dependence.
Thus far, no discernable differences were detected between the mitochondrial genome sequences of Wolbachia-dependent and independent species. Additional research will be needed to determine whether mitochondria from Wolbachia-dependent filarial species show reduced function in comparison to the mitochondria of Wolbachia-independent species despite their sequence-level similarities.
PMCID: PMC3409033  PMID: 22530989
14.  Mutualism Breakdown by Amplification of Wolbachia Genes 
PLoS Biology  2015;13(2):e1002065.
Most insect species are associated with vertically transmitted endosymbionts. Because of the mode of transmission, the fitness of these symbionts is dependent on the fitness of the hosts. Therefore, these endosymbionts need to control their proliferation in order to minimize their cost for the host. The genetic bases and mechanisms of this regulation remain largely undetermined. The maternally inherited bacteria of the genus Wolbachia are the most common endosymbionts of insects, providing some of them with fitness benefits. In Drosophila melanogaster, Wolbachia wMelPop is a unique virulent variant that proliferates massively in the hosts and shortens their lifespan. The genetic bases of wMelPop virulence are unknown, and their identification would allow a better understanding of how Wolbachia levels are regulated. Here we show that amplification of a region containing eight Wolbachia genes, called Octomom, is responsible for wMelPop virulence. Using Drosophila lines selected for carrying Wolbachia with different Octomom copy numbers, we demonstrate that the number of Octomom copies determines Wolbachia titers and the strength of the lethal phenotype. Octomom amplification is unstable, and reversion of copy number to one reverts all the phenotypes. Our results provide a link between genotype and phenotype in Wolbachia and identify a genomic region regulating Wolbachia proliferation. We also prove that these bacteria can evolve rapidly. Rapid evolution by changes in gene copy number may be common in endosymbionts with a high number of mobile elements and other repeated regions. Understanding wMelPop pathogenicity and variability also allows researchers to better control and predict the outcome of releasing mosquitoes transinfected with this variant to block human vector-borne diseases. Our results show that transition from a mutualist to a pathogen may occur because of a single genomic change in the endosymbiont. This implies that there must be constant selection on endosymbionts to control their densities.
An elegant experimental evolution approach reveals that a strain of the symbiotic bacterium Wolbachia that over-replicates and shortens the life of its fruit fly host owes this property to the amplification of a small region of its genome. Read the accompanying Primer.
Author Summary
Insects frequently carry intracellular bacteria that are passed from generation to generation through their eggs. These intracellular symbionts can be beneficial or parasitic, but because of their mode of transmission, they are always dependent on the reproduction of their carriers. They therefore have to control their own growth in order to minimize deleterious effects on the host. Bacteria of the genus Wolbachia are the most common maternally transmitted intracellular bacteria in insects. Most Wolbachia variants that are naturally associated with the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster are benign to their hosts and provide them with protection against viruses. However, wMelPop is a virulent Wolbachia variant that over-replicates massively and shortens the lifespan of its fruit fly host. Here we show that amplification of a Wolbachia genomic region containing eight genes—called Octomom—is responsible for the pathogenic effects of wMelPop. Our results provide a link between genotype and phenotype in Wolbachia and show that virulence in symbionts can be simply caused by increases in gene copy number. These results also indicate that gene copy number variation may be a common mechanism underlying rapid evolution of intracellular symbionts.
PMCID: PMC4323108  PMID: 25668031
15.  Evidence against Wolbachia symbiosis in Loa loa 
Filaria Journal  2003;2:9.
The majority of filarial nematode species are host to Wolbachia bacterial endosymbionts, although a few including Acanthocheilonema viteae, Onchocerca flexuosa and Setaria equina have been shown to be free of infection. Comparisons of species with and without symbionts can provide important information on the role of Wolbachia symbiosis in the biology of the nematode hosts and the contribution of the bacteria to the development of disease. Previous studies by electron microscopy and PCR have failed to detect intracellular bacterial infection in Loa loa. Here we use molecular and immunohistological techniques to confirm this finding.
We have used a combination of PCR amplification of bacterial genes (16S ribosomal DNA [rDNA], ftsZ and Wolbachia surface protein [WSP]) on samples of L. loa adults, third-stage larvae (L3) and microfilariae (mf) and immunohistology on L. loa adults and mf derived from human volunteers to determine the presence or absence of Wolbachia endosymbionts. Samples used in the PCR analysis included 5 adult female worms, 4 adult male worms, 5 mf samples and 2 samples of L3. The quality and purity of nematode DNA was tested by PCR amplification of nematode 5S rDNA and with diagnostic primers from the target species and used to confirm the absence of contamination from Onchocerca sp., Mansonella perstans, M. streptocerca and Wuchereria bancrofti. Immunohistology was carried out by light and electron microscopy on L. loa adults and mf and sections were probed with rabbit antibodies raised to recombinant Brugia malayi Wolbachia WSP. Samples from nematodes known to be infected with Wolbachia (O. volvulus, O. ochengi, Litomosoides sigmodontis and B. malayi) were used as positive controls and A. viteae as a negative control.
Single PCR analysis using primer sets for the bacterial genes 16S rDNA, ftsZ, and WSP were negative for all DNA samples from L. loa. Positive PCR reactions were obtained from DNA samples derived from species known to be infected with Wolbachia, which confirmed the suitability of the primers and PCR conditions. The quality and purity of nematode DNA samples was verified by PCR amplification of 5S rDNA and with nematode diagnostic primers. Additional analysis by 'long PCR' failed to produce any further evidence for Wolbachia symbiosis. Immunohistology of L. loa adults and mf confirmed the results of the PCR with no evidence for Wolbachia symbiosis.
DNA analysis and immunohistology provided no evidence for Wolbachia symbiosis in L. loa.
PMCID: PMC161820  PMID: 12816546
16.  Molecular identification of Wolbachia from the filarial nematode Mansonella perstans 
Wolbachiae are bacterial endosymbionts of insects and many filarial nematodes whose products trigger inflammation in filarial infections. The dependence of the parasites on their endosymbionts has also led to the use of antibiotics directed against the Wolbachiae, therapy that has been demonstrated to have a profound salutary effect on filarial infections. The identification of Wolbachiae in Mansonella species has been conclusively shown for Mansonella ozzardi (Mo), but not for Mansonella perstans (Mp) Using primers known to amplify the 16S ribosomal DNA of other filarial Wolbachiae, an identical 1393 bp band was found in all samples tested. Sequence analysis of these samples demonstrated a single consensus sequence for Mp Wolbachia 16S rDNA that was most similar to Wolbachia sequences from other filarial nematodes. When aligned with the only other Mansonella Wolbachia sequence (Mo) there were only 8 nucleotide differences in the 1369 bp overlapping sequence. Phylogenetic dendrograms, showing the relationship of the Mp Wolbachia to other Wolbachia 16S rDNA, tracked almost identically to the 5S rRNA of their parasite host. Wolbachia surface protein (WSP) was also demonstrated in protein extracted from Mp-containing whole blood. In advance of a treatment trial of Mp, a method for the quantitation of Mp Wolbachia was developed and used to demonstrate not only a relationship between microfilarial numbers and Wolbachia copy numbers, but also to demonstrate the effect of antibiotic on ridding Mp of Wolbachia.
PMCID: PMC2497444  PMID: 18538871
Wolbachia; endosymbiont; Mansonella; ribosomal
17.  Presence of Extensive Wolbachia Symbiont Insertions Discovered in the Genome of Its Host Glossina morsitans morsitans 
Tsetse flies (Glossina spp.) are the cyclical vectors of Trypanosoma spp., which are unicellular parasites responsible for multiple diseases, including nagana in livestock and sleeping sickness in humans in Africa. Glossina species, including Glossina morsitans morsitans (Gmm), for which the Whole Genome Sequence (WGS) is now available, have established symbiotic associations with three endosymbionts: Wigglesworthia glossinidia, Sodalis glossinidius and Wolbachia pipientis (Wolbachia). The presence of Wolbachia in both natural and laboratory populations of Glossina species, including the presence of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) events in a laboratory colony of Gmm, has already been shown. We herein report on the draft genome sequence of the cytoplasmic Wolbachia endosymbiont (cytWol) associated with Gmm. By in silico and molecular and cytogenetic analysis, we discovered and validated the presence of multiple insertions of Wolbachia (chrWol) in the host Gmm genome. We identified at least two large insertions of chrWol, 527,507 and 484,123 bp in size, from Gmm WGS data. Southern hybridizations confirmed the presence of Wolbachia insertions in Gmm genome, and FISH revealed multiple insertions located on the two sex chromosomes (X and Y), as well as on the supernumerary B-chromosomes. We compare the chrWol insertions to the cytWol draft genome in an attempt to clarify the evolutionary history of the HGT events. We discuss our findings in light of the evolution of Wolbachia infections in the tsetse fly and their potential impacts on the control of tsetse populations and trypanosomiasis.
Author Summary
African trypanosomes are transmitted to man and animals by tsetse fly, a blood sucking insect. Tsetse flies include all Glossina species with the genome of Glossina morsitans morsitans (Gmm) being sequenced under the International Glossina Genome Initiative. The endosymbionts Wigglesworthia glossinidia, Sodalis glossinidius and Wolbachia pipientis (Wolbachia) have been found to establish symbiotic associations with Gmm. Wolbachia is known to be present in natural and laboratory populations of Glossina species. In this study we report the genome sequence of the Wolbachia strain that is associated with Gmm. With the aid of in silico and molecular and cytogenetic analyses, multiple insertions of the Wolbachia genome were revealed and confirmed in Gmm chromosome. Comparison of the cytoplasmic Wolbachia draft genome and the chromosomal insertions enabled us to infer the evolutionary history of the Wolbachia horizontal transfer events. These findings are discussed in relation to their impact on the development of Wolbachia-based strategies for the control of tsetse flies and trypanosomiasis.
PMCID: PMC3998919  PMID: 24763283
18.  The expression of one ankyrin pk2 allele of the WO prophage is correlated with the Wolbachia feminizing effect in isopods 
BMC Microbiology  2012;12:55.
The maternally inherited α-Proteobacteria Wolbachia pipientis is an obligate endosymbiont of nematodes and arthropods, in which they induce a variety of reproductive alterations, including Cytoplasmic Incompatibility (CI) and feminization. The genome of the feminizing wVulC Wolbachia strain harboured by the isopod Armadillidium vulgare has been sequenced and is now at the final assembly step. It contains an unusually high number of ankyrin motif-containing genes, two of which are homologous to the phage-related pk1 and pk2 genes thought to contribute to the CI phenotype in Culex pipiens. These genes encode putative bacterial effectors mediating Wolbachia-host protein-protein interactions via their ankyrin motifs.
To test whether these Wolbachia homologs are potentially involved in altering terrestrial isopod reproduction, we determined the distribution and expression of both pk1 and pk2 genes in the 3 Wolbachia strains that induce CI and in 5 inducing feminization of their isopod hosts. Aside from the genes being highly conserved, we found a substantial copy number variation among strains, and that is linked to prophage diversity. Transcriptional analyses revealed expression of one pk2 allele (pk2b2) only in the feminizing Wolbachia strains of isopods.
These results reveal the need to investigate the functions of Wolbachia ankyrin gene products, in particular those of Pk2, and their host targets with respect to host sex manipulation.
PMCID: PMC3431249  PMID: 22497736
19.  First record of Wolbachia in South American terrestrial isopods: Prevalence and diversity in two species of Balloniscus (Crustacea, Oniscidea) 
Genetics and Molecular Biology  2012;35(4 Suppl):980-989.
Wolbachia are endosymbiotic bacteria that commonly infect arthropods, inducing certain phenotypes in their hosts. So far, no endemic South American species of terrestrial isopods have been investigated for Wolbachia infection. In this work, populations from two species of Balloniscus (B. sellowii and B. glaber) were studied through a diagnostic PCR assay. Fifteen new Wolbachia 16S rDNA sequences were detected. Wolbachia found in both species were generally specific to one population, and five populations hosted two different Wolbachia 16S rDNA sequences. Prevalence was higher in B. glaber than in B. sellowii, but uninfected populations could be found in both species. Wolbachia strains from B. sellowii had a higher genetic variation than those isolated from B. glaber. AMOVA analyses showed that most of the genetic variance was distributed among populations of each species rather than between species, and the phylogenetic analysis suggested that Wolbachia strains from Balloniscus cluster within Supergroup B, but do not form a single monophyletic clade, suggesting multiple infections for this group. Our results highlight the importance of studying Wolbachia prevalence and genetic diversity in Neotropical species and suggest that South American arthropods may harbor a great number of diverse strains, providing an interesting model to investigate the evolution of Wolbachia and its hosts.
PMCID: PMC3571423  PMID: 23413179
Wolbachia; prevalence; diversity; South America; Oniscidea
20.  Diversity of Wolbachia Endosymbionts in Heteropteran Bugs 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2003;69(10):6082-6090.
An extensive survey of Wolbachia endosymbionts in Japanese terrestrial heteropteran bugs was performed by PCR detection with universal primers for wsp and ftsZ genes of Wolbachia, cloning of the PCR products, restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis of infecting Wolbachia types, and molecular phylogenetic characterization of all the detected Wolbachia strains. Of 134 heteropteran species from 19 families examined, Wolbachia infection was detected in 47 species from 13 families. From the 47 species, 59 Wolbachia strains were identified. Of the 59 strains, 16 and 43 were assigned to A group and B group in the Wolbachia phylogeny, respectively. The 47 species of Wolbachia-infected bugs were classified into 8 species with A infection, 28 species with B infection, 2 species with AA infection, 3 species with AB infection, 5 species with BB infection, and 1 species with ABB infection. Molecular phylogenetic analysis showed little congruence between Wolbachia phylogeny and host systematics, suggesting frequent horizontal transfers of Wolbachia in the evolutionary course of the Heteroptera. The phylogenetic analysis also revealed several novel lineages of Wolbachia. Based on statistical analyses of the multiple infections, we propose a hypothetical view that, in the heteropteran bugs, interactions between coinfecting Wolbachia strains are generally not intense and that Wolbachia coinfections have been established through a stochastic process probably depending on occasional horizontal transfers.
PMCID: PMC201220  PMID: 14532065
21.  Phylogenomics and Analysis of Shared Genes Suggest a Single Transition to Mutualism in Wolbachia of Nematodes 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2013;5(9):1668-1674.
Wolbachia, endosymbiotic bacteria of the order Rickettsiales, are widespread in arthropods but also present in nematodes. In arthropods, A and B supergroup Wolbachia are generally associated with distortion of host reproduction. In filarial nematodes, including some human parasites, multiple lines of experimental evidence indicate that C and D supergroup Wolbachia are essential for the survival of the host, and here the symbiotic relationship is considered mutualistic. The origin of this mutualistic endosymbiosis is of interest for both basic and applied reasons: How does a parasite become a mutualist? Could intervention in the mutualism aid in treatment of human disease? Correct rooting and high-quality resolution of Wolbachia relationships are required to resolve this question. However, because of the large genetic distance between Wolbachia and the nearest outgroups, and the limited number of genomes so far available for large-scale analyses, current phylogenies do not provide robust answers. We therefore sequenced the genome of the D supergroup Wolbachia endosymbiont of Litomosoides sigmodontis, revisited the selection of loci for phylogenomic analyses, and performed a phylogenomic analysis including available complete genomes (from isolates in supergroups A, B, C, and D). Using 90 orthologous genes with reliable phylogenetic signals, we obtained a robust phylogenetic reconstruction, including a highly supported root to the Wolbachia phylogeny between a (A + B) clade and a (C + D) clade. Although we currently lack data from several Wolbachia supergroups, notably F, our analysis supports a model wherein the putatively mutualist endosymbiotic relationship between Wolbachia and nematodes originated from a single transition event.
PMCID: PMC3787677  PMID: 23960254
Wolbachia; phylogenomics; mutualism; Litomosoides sigmodontis; endosymbiosis
22.  Extreme Divergence of Wolbachia Tropism for the Stem-Cell-Niche in the Drosophila Testis 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(12):e1004577.
Microbial tropism, the infection of specific cells and tissues by a microorganism, is a fundamental aspect of host-microbe interactions. The intracellular bacteria Wolbachia have a peculiar tropism for the stem cell niches in the Drosophila ovary, the microenvironments that support the cells producing the eggs. The molecular underpinnings of Wolbachia stem cell niche tropism are unknown. We have previously shown that the patterns of tropism in the ovary show a high degree of conservation across the Wolbachia lineage, with closely related Wolbachia strains usually displaying the same pattern of stem cell niche tropism. It has also been shown that tropism to these structures in the ovary facilitates both vertical and horizontal transmission, providing a strong selective pressure towards evolutionary conservation of tropism. Here we show great disparity in the evolutionary conservation and underlying mechanisms of stem cell niche tropism between male and female gonads. In contrast to females, niche tropism in the male testis is not pervasive, present in only 45% of niches analyzed. The patterns of niche tropism in the testis are not evolutionarily maintained across the Wolbachia lineage, unlike what was shown in the females. Furthermore, hub tropism does not correlate with cytoplasmic incompatibility, a Wolbachia-driven phenotype imprinted during spermatogenesis. Towards identifying the molecular mechanism of hub tropism, we performed hybrid analyses of Wolbachia strains in non-native hosts. These results indicate that both Wolbachia and host derived factors play a role in the targeting of the stem cell niche in the testis. Surprisingly, even closely related Wolbachia strains in Drosophila melanogaster, derived from a single ancestor only 8,000 years ago, have significantly different tropisms to the hub, highlighting that stem cell niche tropism is rapidly diverging in males. These findings provide a powerful system to investigate the mechanisms and evolution of microbial tissue tropism.
Author Summary
Microbes evolve to infect structures favoring their transmission in host populations. A large fraction of insects are infected with Wolbachia bacteria. Usually Wolbachia are transmitted the same way we inherit our mitochondria, via the eggs from the mother. In fruit flies, to favor maternal transmission, Wolbachia infect the microenvironment containing the egg producing stem cells, called the “stem cell niche”. Targeting of the stem cell niche is evolutionary conserved in female fruit flies, observed in all Wolbachia strains analyzed to date. Remarkably, in males, we find many Wolbachia strains not infecting the stem cell niche present in the testis. We report a surprising diversity in stem cell niche infection in males, contrasting with extreme conservation in females. We further show that even closely related Wolbachia strains in D. melanogaster display rapidly evolving patterns of stem cell niche targeting in males. Understanding the molecular mechanisms driving these differences will identify sex specific features of stem cell niche biology. Because Wolbachia promote insect resistance against human diseases transmitted by mosquitos, Wolbachia are becoming a valuable tool in the control of several diseases, including Dengue and malaria. Knowledge emerging from this research will also provide novel tools towards Wolbachia based strategies of disease control.
PMCID: PMC4270793  PMID: 25521619
23.  Wolbachia-Associated Bacterial Protection in the Mosquito Aedes aegypti 
Wolbachia infections confer protection for their insect hosts against a range of pathogens including bacteria, viruses, nematodes and the malaria parasite. A single mechanism that might explain this broad-based pathogen protection is immune priming, in which the presence of the symbiont upregulates the basal immune response, preparing the insect to defend against subsequent pathogen infection. A study that compared natural Wolbachia infections in Drosophila melanogaster with the mosquito vector Aedes aegypti artificially transinfected with the same strains has suggested that innate immune priming may only occur in recent host-Wolbachia associations. This same study also revealed that while immune priming may play a role in viral protection it cannot explain the entirety of the effect.
Here we assess whether the level of innate immune priming induced by different Wolbachia strains in A. aegypti is correlated with the degree of protection conferred against bacterial pathogens. We show that Wolbachia strains wMel and wMelPop, currently being tested for field release for dengue biocontrol, differ in their protective abilities. The wMelPop strain provides stronger, more broad-based protection than wMel, and this is likely explained by both the higher induction of immune gene expression and the strain-specific activation of particular genes. We also show that Wolbachia densities themselves decline during pathogen infection, likely as a result of the immune induction.
This work shows a correlation between innate immune priming and bacterial protection phenotypes. The ability of the Toll pathway, melanisation and antimicrobial peptides to enhance viral protection or to provide the basis of malaria protection should be further explored in the context of this two-strain comparison. This work raises the questions of whether Wolbachia may improve the ability of wild mosquitoes to survive pathogen infection or alter the natural composition of gut flora, and thus have broader consequences for host fitness.
Author Summary
Wolbachia is a commonly occurring bacterium or symbiont that lives inside the cells of insects. Recently, Wolbachia was artificially introduced into the mosquito vector dengue virus that was naturally Wolbachia-free. Wolbachia limits the growth of a range of pathogens transmitted to humans, including viruses, bacteria and parasites inside the mosquito. This “pathogen protection” forms the basis of field trials to determine if releasing Wolbachia into wild mosquito populations could reduce dengue virus incidence in humans. The basis of pathogen protection is not fully understood. Previous work suggests that the symbiont may activate the basal immune response, preparing the insect to defend itself against subsequent pathogen infection. Here we infect mosquitoes harbouring Wolbachia with a range of bacterial pathogens as a means to understand the nature of protection. We show that different Wolbachia strains vary in their ability to limit pathogen growth and that this correlates with the degree to which the Wolbachia activates the host immune response. These findings may assist with Wolbachia strain selection for future open field release and raise the question whether Wolbachia might provide a fitness advantage to mosquitoes in the wild by limiting their death due to bacterial infection.
PMCID: PMC3738474  PMID: 23951381
24.  Symbionts Commonly Provide Broad Spectrum Resistance to Viruses in Insects: A Comparative Analysis of Wolbachia Strains 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(9):e1004369.
In the last decade, bacterial symbionts have been shown to play an important role in protecting hosts against pathogens. Wolbachia, a widespread symbiont in arthropods, can protect Drosophila and mosquito species against viral infections. We have investigated antiviral protection in 19 Wolbachia strains originating from 16 Drosophila species after transfer into the same genotype of Drosophila simulans. We found that approximately half of the strains protected against two RNA viruses. Given that 40% of terrestrial arthropod species are estimated to harbour Wolbachia, as many as a fifth of all arthropods species may benefit from Wolbachia-mediated protection. The level of protection against two distantly related RNA viruses – DCV and FHV – was strongly genetically correlated, which suggests that there is a single mechanism of protection with broad specificity. Furthermore, Wolbachia is making flies resistant to viruses, as increases in survival can be largely explained by reductions in viral titer. Variation in the level of antiviral protection provided by different Wolbachia strains is strongly genetically correlated to the density of the bacteria strains in host tissues. We found no support for two previously proposed mechanisms of Wolbachia-mediated protection — activation of the immune system and upregulation of the methyltransferase Dnmt2. The large variation in Wolbachia's antiviral properties highlights the need to carefully select Wolbachia strains introduced into mosquito populations to prevent the transmission of arboviruses.
Author Summary
In recent years it has been discovered that many organisms are infected with bacterial symbionts that protect them against pathogens. Wolbachia is a bacterial symbiont that is found in many species of insects, and several strains are known to protect the insects against viral infection. We took 19 strains of Wolbachia from different species of Drosophila fruit flies, transferred them into Drosophila simulans, and then infected these flies with two different viruses. We found that about half of the strains slowed the death of flies after viral infection. Given that 40% of terrestrial arthropods may be infected with Wolbachia, this suggests that many species may benefit from this protection. These increases in survival were tightly linked to reductions in the levels of the virus in the insect, suggesting that Wolbachia is reducing the viruses' ability to replicate. Despite the two viruses we used being very different, the level of protection that a Wolbachia strain provided against the two viruses tended to be very similar, suggesting that a single general mechanism underlies the antiviral effects. The extent to which a Wolbachia strain provides protection against viral infection depends largely on the bacterial density— the more Wolbachia, the greater the protection.
PMCID: PMC4169468  PMID: 25233341
25.  Obligatory symbiotic Wolbachia endobacteria are absent from Loa loa 
Filaria Journal  2003;2:10.
Many filarial nematodes harbour Wolbachia endobacteria. These endobacteria are transmitted vertically from one generation to the next. In several filarial species that have been studied to date they are obligatory symbionts of their hosts. Elimination of the endobacteria by antibiotics interrupts the embryogenesis and hence the production of microfilariae. The medical implication of this being that the use of doxycycline for the treatment of human onchocerciasis and bancroftian filariasis leads to elimination of the Wolbachia and hence sterilisation of the female worms. Wolbachia play a role in the immunopathology of patients and may contribute to side effects seen after antifilarial chemotherapy. In several studies Wolbachia were not observed in Loa loa. Since these results have been doubted, and because of the medical significance, several independent methods were applied to search for Wolbachia in L. loa.
Loa loa and Onchocerca volvulus were studied by electron microscopy, histology with silver staining, and immunohistology using antibodies against WSP, Wolbachia aspartate aminotransferase, and heat shock protein 60. The results achieved with L. loa and O. volvulus were compared. Searching for Wolbachia, genes were amplified by PCR coding for the bacterial 16S rDNA, the FTSZ cell division protein, and WSP.
No Wolbachia endobacteria were discovered by immunohistology in 13 male and 14 female L. loa worms and in numerous L. loa microfilariae. In contrast, endobacteria were found in large numbers in O. volvulus and 14 other filaria species. No intracellular bacteria were seen in electron micrographs of oocytes and young morulae of L. loa in contrast to O. volvulus. In agreement with these results, Wolbachia DNA was not detected by PCR in three male and six female L. loa worms and in two microfilariae samples of L. loa.
Loa loa do not harbour obligatory symbiotic Wolbachia endobacteria in essential numbers to enable their efficient vertical transmission or to play a role in production of microfilariae. Exclusively, the filariae cause the immunopathology of loiasis is patients and the adverse side effects after antifilarial chemotherapy. Doxycycline cannot be used to cure loiais but it probably does not represent a risk for L. loa patients when administered to patients with co-infections of onchocerciasis.
PMCID: PMC161789  PMID: 12801420

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