Wolbachia density and virulence attenuation after transfer into a novel host

E. A. McGraw, D. J. Merritt, J. N. Droller, S. L. O'Neill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

232 Scopus citations


The factors that control replication rate of the intracellular bacterium Wolbachia pipientis in its insect hosts are unknown and difficult to explore, given the complex interaction of symbiont and host genotypes. Using a strain of Wolbachia that is known to over-replicate and shorten the lifespan of its Drosophila melanogaster host, we have tracked the evolution of replication control in both somatic and reproductive tissues in a novel host/Wolbachia association. After transinfection (the transfer of a Wolbachia strain into a different species) of the over-replicating Wolbachia popcorn strain from D. melanogaster to Drosophila simulans, we demonstrated that initial high densities in the ovaries were in excess of what was required for perfect maternal transmission, and were likely causing reductions in reproductive fitness. Both densities and fitness costs associated with ovary infection rapidly declined in the generations after transinfection. The early death effect in D. simulans attenuated only slightly and was comparable to that induced in D. melanogaster. This study reveals a strong host involvement in Wolbachia replication rates, the independence of density control responses in different tissues, and the strength of natural selection acting on reproductive fitness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2918-2923
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 5 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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