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Genetics. 2006 Sep;174(1):363-76. Epub 2006 Jun 18.

Heritable endosymbionts of Drosophila.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA.


Although heritable microorganisms are increasingly recognized as widespread in insects, no systematic screens for such symbionts have been conducted in Drosophila species (the primary insect genetic models for studies of evolution, development, and innate immunity). Previous efforts screened relatively few Drosophila lineages, mainly for Wolbachia. We conducted an extensive survey of potentially heritable endosymbionts from any bacterial lineage via PCR screens of mature ovaries in 181 recently collected fly strains representing 35 species from 11 species groups. Due to our fly sampling methods, however, we are likely to have missed fly strains infected with sex ratio-distorting endosymbionts. Only Wolbachia and Spiroplasma, both widespread in insects, were confirmed as symbionts. These findings indicate that in contrast to some other insect groups, other heritable symbionts are uncommon in Drosophila species, possibly reflecting a robust innate immune response that eliminates many bacteria. A more extensive survey targeted these two symbiont types through diagnostic PCR in 1225 strains representing 225 species from 32 species groups. Of these, 19 species were infected by Wolbachia while only 3 species had Spiroplasma. Several new strains of Wolbachia and Spiroplasma were discovered, including ones divergent from any reported to date. The phylogenetic distribution of Wolbachia and Spiroplasma in Drosophila is discussed.

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