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J Mol Evol. 2000 Nov;51(5):491-7.

Distribution and evolution of bacteriophage WO in Wolbachia, the endosymbiont causing sexual alterations in arthropods.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Graduate School of Science, University of Tokyo, Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan.


Wolbachia are obligatory intracellular and maternally inherited bacteria, known to infect many species of arthropod. In this study, we discovered a bacteriophage-like genetic element in Wolbachia, which was tentatively named bacteriophage WO. The phylogenetic tree based on phage WO genes of several Wolbachia strains was not congruent with that based on chromosomal genes of the same strains, suggesting that phage WO was active and horizontally transmitted among various Wolbachia strains. All the strains of Wolbachia used in this study were infected with phage WO. Although the phage genome contained genes of diverse origins, the average G+C content and codon usage of these genes were quite similar to those of a chromosomal gene of Wolbachia. These results raised the possibility that phage WO has been associated with Wolbachia for a very long time, conferring some benefit to its hosts. The evolution and possible roles of phage WO in various reproductive alterations of insects caused by Wolbachia are discussed.

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