The alphaproteobacterium Wolbachia pipientis, the most common endosymbiont in eukaryotes, is found predominantly in insects including many Drosophila species. Although Wolbachia is primarily vertically transmitted, analysis of its genome provides evidence for frequent horizontal transfer, extensive recombination and numerous mobile genetic elements. The genome sequence of Wolbachia in Drosophila simulans Riverside (wRi) is available along with the integrated bacteriophages, enabling a detailed examination of phage genes and the role of these genes in the biology of Wolbachia and its host organisms. Wolbachia is widely known for its ability to modify the reproductive patterns of insects. One particular modification, cytoplasmic incompatibility, has previously been shown to be dependent on Wolbachia density and inversely related to the titer of lytic phage. The wRi genome has four phage regions, two WORiBs, one WORiA and one WORiC.
In this study specific primers were designed to distinguish between these four prophage types in wRi, and quantitative PCR was used to measure the titer of bacteriophages in testes, ovaries, embryos and adult flies. In all tissues tested, WORiA and WORiB were not found to be present in excess of their integrated prophages; WORiC, however, was found to be present extrachromosomally. WORiC is undergoing extrachromosomal replication in wRi. The density of phage particles was found to be consistent in individual larvae in a laboratory population. The WORiC genome is organized in conserved blocks of genes and aligns most closely with other known lytic WO phages, WOVitA and WOCauB.
The results presented here suggest that WORiC is the lytic form of WO in D. simulans, is undergoing extrachromosomal replication in wRi, and belongs to a conserved family of phages in Wolbachia.