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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2010 Apr;76(8):2589-99. doi: 10.1128/AEM.03154-09. Epub 2010 Feb 19.

Rickettsia symbionts cause parthenogenetic reproduction in the parasitoid wasp Pnigalio soemius (Hymenoptera: Eulophidae).

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Istituto per la Protezione delle Piante, CNR, via Università 133, Portici (NA), Italy 80055.


Bacteria in the genus Rickettsia are intracellular symbionts of disparate groups of organisms. Some Rickettsia strains infect vertebrate animals and plants, where they cause diseases, but most strains are vertically inherited symbionts of invertebrates. In insects Rickettsia symbionts are known to have diverse effects on hosts ranging from influencing host fitness to manipulating reproduction. Here we provide evidence that a Rickettsia symbiont causes thelytokous parthenogenesis (in which mothers produce only daughters from unfertilized eggs) in a parasitoid wasp, Pnigalio soemius (Hymenoptera: Eulophidae). Feeding antibiotics to thelytokous female wasps resulted in production of progeny that were almost all males. Cloning and sequencing of a fragment of the 16S rRNA gene amplified with universal primers, diagnostic PCR screening of symbiont lineages associated with manipulation of reproduction, and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) revealed that Rickettsia is always associated with thelytokous P. soemius and that no other bacteria that manipulate reproduction are present. Molecular analyses and FISH showed that Rickettsia is distributed in the reproductive tissues and is transovarially transmitted from mothers to offspring. Comparison of antibiotic-treated females and untreated females showed that infection had no cost. Phylogenetic analyses of 16S rRNA and gltA gene sequences placed the symbiont of P. soemius in the bellii group and indicated that there have been two separate origins of the parthenogenesis-inducing phenotype in the genus Rickettsia. A possible route for evolution of induction of parthenogenesis in the two distantly related Rickettsia lineages is discussed.

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