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Genetics. 2011 May;188(1):141-50. doi: 10.1534/genetics.111.127696. Epub 2011 Feb 21.

Rhabdoviruses in two species of Drosophila: vertical transmission and a recent sweep.

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  • 1Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.


Insects are host to a diverse range of vertically transmitted micro-organisms, but while their bacterial symbionts are well-studied, little is known about their vertically transmitted viruses. We have found that two sigma viruses (Rhabdoviridae) recently discovered in Drosophila affinis and Drosophila obscura are both vertically transmitted. As is the case for the sigma virus of Drosophila melanogaster, we find that both males and females can transmit these viruses to their offspring. Males transmit lower viral titers through sperm than females transmit through eggs, and a lower proportion of their offspring become infected. In natural populations of D. obscura in the United Kingdom, we found that 39% of flies were infected and that the viral population shows clear evidence of a recent expansion, with extremely low genetic diversity and a large excess of rare polymorphisms. Using sequence data we estimate that the virus has swept across the United Kingdom within the past ∼11 years, during which time the viral population size doubled approximately every 9 months. Using simulations based on our lab estimates of transmission rates, we show that the biparental mode of transmission allows the virus to invade and rapidly spread through populations at rates consistent with those measured in the field. Therefore, as predicted by our simulations, the virus has undergone an extremely rapid and recent increase in population size. In light of this and earlier studies of a related virus in D. melanogaster, we conclude that vertically transmitted rhabdoviruses may be common in insects and that these host-parasite interactions can be highly dynamic.

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