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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2005 Dec;71(12):7987-94.

Horizontal transfer of bacterial symbionts: heritability and fitness effects in a novel aphid host.

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  • 1Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Museum of Comparative Zoology Labs, Harvard University, 26 Oxford St., Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. jrussell@oeb.harvard.edu

Abstract

Members of several bacterial lineages are known only as symbionts of insects and move among hosts through maternal transmission. Such vertical transfer promotes strong fidelity within these associations, favoring the evolution of microbially mediated effects that improve host fitness. However, phylogenetic evidence indicates occasional horizontal transfer among different insect species, suggesting that some microbial symbionts retain a generalized ability to infect multiple hosts. Here we examine the abilities of three vertically transmitted bacteria from the Gammaproteobacteria to infect and spread within a novel host species, the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum. Using microinjection, we transferred symbionts from three species of natural aphid hosts into a common host background, comparing transmission efficiencies between novel symbionts and those naturally infecting A. pisum. We also examined the fitness effects of two novel symbionts to determine whether they should persist under natural selection acting at the host level. Our results reveal that these heritable bacteria vary in their capacities to utilize A. pisum as a host. One of three novel symbionts failed to undergo efficient maternal transmission in A. pisum, and one of the two efficiently transmitted bacteria depressed aphid growth rates. Although these findings reveal that negative fitness effects and low transmission efficiency can prevent the establishment of a new infection following horizontal transmission, they also indicate that some symbionts can overcome these obstacles, accounting for their widespread distributions across aphids and related insects.

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