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Genetics. Jun 2003; 164(2): 545–552.
PMCID: PMC1462605

Cytoplasmic incompatibility and sperm cyst infection in different Drosophila-Wolbachia associations.


Wolbachia are a group of maternally transmitted obligatory intracellular alpha-proteobacteria that infect a wide range of arthropod and nematode species. Wolbachia infection in Drosophila in most cases is associated with the induction of cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI), manifested as embryonic lethality of offspring in a cross between infected males and uninfected females. While the molecular basis of CI is still unknown, it has been suggested that two bacterial functions are involved: mod (for modification) modifies the sperm during spermatogenesis and resc (for rescue) acts in the female germline and/or in early embryos, neutralizing the modification. There is considerable variation in the level of incompatibility in different Wolbachia/host interactions. We examine the relationship between the levels of CI in a number of naturally infected and transinfected Drosophila hosts and the percentage of Wolbachia-infected sperm cysts. Our results indicate the presence of two main groups of Drosophila-Wolbachia associations: group I, which exhibits a positive correlation between CI levels and the percentage of infected sperm cysts (mod(+) phenotype), and group II, which does not express CI (mod(-) phenotype) irrespective of the infection status of the sperm cysts. Group II can be further divided into two subgroups: The first one contains associations with high numbers of heavily Wolbachia-infected sperm cysts while in the second one, Wolbachia is rarely detected in sperm cysts, being mostly present in somatic cells. We conclude that there are three requirements for the expression of CI in a host-Wolbachia association: (a) Wolbachia has to be able to modify sperm (mod(+) genotype), (b) Wolbachia has to infect sperm cysts, and (c) Wolbachia has to be harbored by a permissive host.

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Selected References

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