Wolbachia is an insect endosymbiont being used for biological control in the mosquito Aedes aegypti because it causes cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI) and limits viral replication of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika viruses. While the genetic mechanism of pathogen blocking (PB) is not fully understood, the strength of both CI and PB are positively correlated with Wolbachia densities in the host. Wolbachia densities are determined by a combination of Wolbachia strain and insect genotype, as well as interactions with the environment. We employed both artificial selection and inbreeding with the goal of creating lines of Ae. aegypti with heritable and distinct Wolbachia densities so that we might better dissect the mechanism underlying PB. We were unable to shift the mean relative Wolbachia density in Ae. aegypti lines by either strategy, with relative densities instead tending to cycle over a narrow range. In lieu of this, we used Wolbachia densities in mosquito legs as predictors of relative densities in the remaining individual’s carcass. Because we worked with outbred mosquitoes, our findings indicate either a lack of genetic variation in the mosquito for controlling relative density, natural selection against extreme densities, or a predominance of environmental factors affecting densities. Our study reveals that there are moderating forces acting on relative Wolbachia densities that may help to stabilize density phenotypes post field release. We also show a means to accurately bin vector carcasses into high and low categories for non-DNA omics-based studies of Wolbachia-mediated traits.
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