Decoupling of host-symbiont-phage coadaptations following transfer between insect species

Meghan E. Chafee, Courtney N. Zecher, Michelle L. Gourley, Victor T. Schmidt, John H. Chen, Sarah R. Bordenstein, Michael E. Clark, Seth R. Bordenstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Transferring endosymbiotic bacteria between different host species can perturb the coordinated regulation of the host and bacterial genomes. Here we use the most common maternally transmitted bacteria, Wolbachia pipientis, to test the consequences of host genetic background on infection densities and the processes underlying those changes in the parasitoid wasp genus Nasonia. Introgressing the genome of Nasonia giraulti into the infected cytoplasm of N. vitripennis causes a two-order-of-magnitude increase in bacterial loads in adults and a proliferation of the infection to somatic tissues. The host effect on W. pipientis distribution and densities is associated with a twofold decrease in densities of the temperate phage WO-B. Returning the bacteria from the new host species back to the resident host species restores the bacteria and phage to their native densities. To our knowledge, this is the first study to report a host-microbe genetic interaction that affects the densities of both W. pipientis and bacteriophage WO-B. The consequences of the increased bacterial density include a reduction in fecundity, an increase in levels of cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI), and unexpectedly, male-to-female transfer of the bacteria to uninfected females and an increased acceptance of densely infected females to interspecific mates. While paternal inheritance of the W. pipientis was not observed, the high incidence of male-to-female transfer in the introgressed background raises the possibility that paternal transmission could be more likely in hybrids where paternal leakage of other cytoplasmic elements is also known to occur. Taken together, these results establish a major change in W. pipientis densities and tissue tropism between closely related species and support a model in which phage WO, Wolbachia, and arthropods form a tripartite symbiotic association in which all three are integral to understanding the biology of this widespread endosymbiosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-215
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine(all)


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