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PLoS Pathog. 2009 Apr;5(4):e1000368. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000368. Epub 2009 Apr 3.

Evidence for metabolic provisioning by a common invertebrate endosymbiont, Wolbachia pipientis, during periods of nutritional stress.

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School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland, Australia.


Wolbachia are ubiquitous inherited endosymbionts of invertebrates that invade host populations by modifying host reproductive systems. However, some strains lack the ability to impose reproductive modification and yet are still capable of successfully invading host populations. To explain this paradox, theory predicts that such strains should provide a fitness benefit, but to date none has been detected. Recently completed genome sequences of different Wolbachia strains show that these bacteria may have the genetic machinery to influence iron utilization of hosts. Here we show that Wolbachia infection can confer a positive fecundity benefit for Drosophila melanogaster reared on iron-restricted or -overloaded diets. Furthermore, iron levels measured from field-collected flies indicated that nutritional conditions in the field were overall comparable to those of flies reared in the laboratory on restricted diets. These data suggest that Wolbachia may play a previously unrecognized role as nutritional mutualists in insects.

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