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Mol Ecol. 2003 Dec;12(12):3459-65.

Strain-specific regulation of intracellular Wolbachia density in multiply infected insects.

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Laboratoire de Biométrie et Biologie Evolutive, Université Claude Bernard, 43 Boulevard du 11 Novembre 1918, 69622 Villeurbanne Cedex, France.


Vertically transmitted symbionts suffer a severe reduction in numbers when they pass through host generations, resulting in genetic homogeneity or even clonality of their populations. Wolbachia endosymbionts that induce cytoplasmic incompatibility in their hosts depart from this rule, because cytoplasmic incompatibility actively maintains multiple infection within hosts. Hosts and symbionts are thus probably under peculiar selective pressures that must shape the way intracellular bacterial populations are regulated. We studied the density and location of Wolbachia within adult Leptopilina heterotoma, a haplodiploid wasp that is parasitic on Drosophila and that is naturally infected with three Wolbachia strains, but for which we also obtained one simply infected and two doubly infected lines. Comparison of these four lines by quantitative polymerase chain reaction using a real-time detection system showed that total Wolbachia density varies according to the infection status of individuals, while the specific density of each Wolbachia strain remains constant regardless of the presence of other strains. This suggests that Wolbachia strains do not compete with one another within the same host individual, and that a strain-specific regulatory mechanism is operating. We discuss the regulatory mechanisms that are involved, and how this process might have evolved as a response to selective pressures acting on both partners.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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