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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Apr 1, 1992; 89(7): 2699–2702.

16S rRNA phylogenetic analysis of the bacterial endosymbionts associated with cytoplasmic incompatibility in insects.


Bacterial endosymbionts of insects have long been implicated in the phenomenon of cytoplasmic incompatibility, in which certain crosses between symbiont-infected individuals lead to embryonic death or sex ratio distortion. The taxonomic position of these bacteria has, however, not been known with any certainty. Similarly, the relatedness of the bacteria infecting various insect hosts has been unclear. The inability to grow these bacteria on defined cell-free medium has been the major factor underlying these uncertainties. We circumvented this problem by selective PCR amplification and subsequent sequencing of the symbiont 16S rRNA genes directly from infected insect tissue. Maximum parsimony analysis of these sequences indicates that the symbionts belong in the alpha-subdivision of the Proteobacteria, where they are most closely related to the Rickettsia and their relatives. They are all closely related to each other and are assigned to the type species Wolbachia pipientis. Lack of congruence between the phylogeny of the symbionts and their insect hosts suggest that horizontal transfer of symbionts between insect species may occur. Comparison of the sequences for W. pipientis and for Wolbachia persica, an endosymbiont of ticks, shows that the genus Wolbachia is polyphyletic. A PCR assay based on 16S primers was designed for the detection of W. pipientis in insect tissue, and initial screening of insects indicates that cytoplasmic incompatibility may be a more general phenomenon in insects than is currently recognized.

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