Comparative genomics of two closely related wolbachia with different reproductive effects on hosts

Irene L.G. Newton, Michael E. Clark, Bethany N. Kent, Seth R. Bordenstein, Jiaxin Qu, Stephen Richards, Yogeshwar D. Kelkar, John H. Werren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Wolbachia pipientis are obligate intracellular bacteria commonly found in many arthropods. They can induce various reproductive alterations in hosts, including cytoplasmic incompatibility, male-killing, feminization, and parthenogenetic development, and can provide host protection against some viruses and other pathogens. Wolbachia differ from many other primary endosymbionts in arthropods because they undergo frequent horizontal transmission between hosts and are well known for an abundance of mobile elements and relatively high recombination rates. Here, we compare the genomes of two closely related Wolbachia (with 0.57% genome-wide synonymous divergence) that differ in their reproductive effects on hosts. wVitA induces a sperm–egg incompatibility (also known as cytoplasmic incompatibility) in the parasitoid insect Nasonia vitripennis, whereas wUni causes parthenogenetic development in a different parasitoid, Muscidifurax uniraptor. Although these bacteria are closely related, the genomic comparison reveals rampant rearrangements, protein truncations (particularly in proteins predicted to be secreted), and elevated substitution rates. These changes occur predominantly in the wUni lineage, and May be due in part to adaptations by wUni to a new host environment, or its phenotypic shift to parthenogenesis induction. However, we conclude that the approximately 8-fold elevated synonymous substitution rate in wUni is due to a either an elevated mutation rate or a greater number of generations per year in wUni, which occurs in semitropical host species. We identify a set of genes whose loss or pseudogenization in the wUni lineage implicates them in the phenotypic shift from cytoplasmic incompatibility to parthenogenesis induction. Finally, comparison of these closely related strains allows us to determine the fine-scale mutation patterns in Wolbachia. Although Wolbachia are AT rich, mutation probabilities estimated from 4-fold degenerate sites are not AT biased, and predict an equilibrium AT content much less biased than observed (57–50% AT predicted vs. 76% current content at degenerate sites genome wide). The contrast suggests selection for increased AT content within Wolbachia genomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1526-1542
Number of pages17
JournalGenome biology and evolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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