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Genetics. 2003 Dec;165(4):2029-38.

Wolbachia and cytoplasmic incompatibility in the California Culex pipiens mosquito species complex: parameter estimates and infection dynamics in natural populations.

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  • 1Department of Entomology, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA.


Before maternally inherited bacterial symbionts like Wolbachia, which cause cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI; reduced hatch rate) when infected males mate with uninfected females, can be used in a program to control vector-borne diseases it is essential to understand their dynamics of infection in natural arthropod vector populations. Our study had four goals: (1) quantify the number of Wolbachia strains circulating in the California Culex pipiens species complex, (2) investigate Wolbachia infection frequencies and distribution in natural California populations, (3) estimate the parameters that govern Wolbachia spread among Cx. pipiens under laboratory and field conditions, and (4) use these values to estimate equilibrium levels and compare predicted infection prevalence levels to those observed in nature. Strain-specific PCR, wsp gene sequencing, and crossing experiments indicated that a single Wolbachia strain infects Californian Cx. pipiens. Infection frequency was near or at fixation in all populations sampled for 2 years along a >1000-km north-south transect. The combined statewide infection frequency was 99.4%. Incompatible crosses were 100% sterile under laboratory and field conditions. Sterility decreased negligibly with male age in the laboratory. Infection had no significant effect on female fecundity under laboratory or field conditions. Vertical transmission was >99% in the laboratory and approximately 98.6% in the field. Using field data, models predicted that Wolbachia will spread to fixation if infection exceeds an unstable equilibrium point above 1.4%. Our estimates accurately predicted infection frequencies in natural populations. If certain technical hurdles can be overcome, our data indicate that Wolbachia can invade vector populations as part of an applied transgenic strategy for vector-borne disease reduction.

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