Wolbachia (genus - entomopathogens)

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transmission electron micrograph of Wolbachia within an insect cell (click on image to enlarge it)
Author(s): Scott O'Neill
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Wolbachia (genus - entomopathogens)

This genus contains intracelluar Gram-negative bacteria which are commonly found in arthropods and are transmitted from females to offspring. They are mainly considered to be symbiotic, having a positive effect on its host. If Wolbachia is removed from the insect host with antibiotics the fecundity of the female is reduced, although the lifespan is not affected.

Further, the fertility of uninfected females is reduced partially or completely after mating with infected males. The mechanism involved is called "cytoplasmic incompatibility" (causing early embryo death). This leads to the gradual elimination of uninfected members from a population. A bacteriophage-like (or virus-like) genetic element of Wolbachia (phage WO) might be responsible for this effect or contribute to it.

Releasing Wolbachia-infected males into an uninfected population can possibly decrease the insect population. Also, this may be a mechanism for spreading transmission-blocking transgenes through populations of medically important vector species. In addition, it has been possible to transfer Wolbachia strains from one insect to another species. This involves curing the target species first of its own Wolbachia symbionts with tetracycline and then microinjecting cytoplasma from the source species. Such transinfected target insects can have special properties. For example in Aedes albopictus or A. aegypti, transinfection with a Wolbachia strain from Drosophila melanogaster (Mel strain) can reduce the capacity of the mosquito to transmit the dengue and Zika viruses. Current research is focused mainly on exploring the use of Wolbachia against mosquito vectors. Field releases of such modified mosquito strains have been made in countries like Australia, Vietnam, Brazil, Indonesia, and Colombia.

For reviews see Rainey et al., 2014 and Alphey et al., 2013.