The phage gene wmk is a candidate for male killing by a bacterial endosymbiont

Jessamyn I. Perlmutter, Sarah R. Bordenstein, Robert L. Unckless, Daniel P. LePage, Jason A. Metcalf, Tom Hill, Julien Martinez, Francis M. Jiggins, Seth R. Bordenstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Wolbachia are the most widespread maternally-transmitted bacteria in the animal kingdom. Their global spread in arthropods and varied impacts on animal physiology, evolution, and vector control are in part due to parasitic drive systems that enhance the fitness of infected females, the transmitting sex of Wolbachia. Male killing is one common drive mechanism wherein the sons of infected females are selectively killed. Despite decades of research, the gene(s) underlying Wolbachia-induced male killing remain unknown. Here using comparative genomic, transgenic, and cytological approaches in fruit flies, we identify a candidate gene in the eukaryotic association module of Wolbachia prophage WO, termed WO-mediated killing (wmk), which transgenically causes male-specific lethality during early embryogenesis and cytological defects typical of the pathology of male killing. The discovery of wmk establishes new hypotheses for the potential role of phage genes in sex-specific lethality, including the control of arthropod pests and vectors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1007936
JournalPLoS pathogens
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Virology


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