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Proc Biol Sci. 2001 Apr 22;268(1469):855-9.

Transfection of Wolbachia in Lepidoptera: the feminizer of the adzuki bean borer Ostrinia scapulalis causes male killing in the Mediterranean flour moth Ephestia kuehniella.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Graduate School of Science, University of Tokyo, Hongo, Japan.


Two species of Lepidoptera, Ostrinia scapulalis and Ephestia kuehniella, harbour Wolbachia, which are maternally transmitted intracellular bacteria that often cause reproductive abnormalities in arthropods. While the infection in O. scapulalis causes conversion of genetic males into functional females (feminization), that in E. kuehniella induces cytoplasmic incompatibility. In the present study, we investigated the relative importance of host and Wolbachia factors in the differential expression of reproductive alterations in these insects. We transferred the Wolbachia harboured by O. scapulalis to E. kuehniella in which the original infection had been cured by tetracycline treatment. The transfected strain of E. kuehniella expressed a maternally inherited, female-biased sex ratio. Unexpectedly, two lines of evidence suggested that the sex ratio distortion was due to male killing. First, higher mortality of young larvae was observed. Second, the removal of the transferred Wolbachia resulted in the recovery of a 1:1 sex ratio, whereas the removal of a feminizer should result in a male-biased sex ratio among offspring. To the authors' knowledge, this is the first report that a single Wolbachia strain can cause two distinct sexual abnormalities in different hosts. Our observations highlighted the importance of host-Wolbachia interactions in determining the phenotype of reproductive alterations.

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