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PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e29106. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029106. Epub 2011 Dec 15.

Temperature affects the tripartite interactions between bacteriophage WO, Wolbachia, and cytoplasmic incompatibility.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, United States of America.


Wolbachia infections are a model for understanding intracellular, bacterial symbioses. While the symbiosis is often studied from a binary perspective of host and bacteria, it is increasingly apparent that additional trophic levels can influence the symbiosis. For example, Wolbachia in arthropods harbor a widespread temperate bacteriophage, termed WO, that forms virions and rampantly transfers between coinfections. Here we test the hypothesis that temperatures at the extreme edges of an insect's habitable range alter bacteriophage WO inducibility and in turn, Wolbachia densities and the penetrance of cytoplasmic incompatibility. We report four key findings using the model wasp, Nasonia vitripennis: First, both cold treatment at 18 C and heat treatment at 30 C reduce Wolbachia densities by as much as 74% relative to wasps reared at 25 C. Second, in all cases where Wolbachia densities decline due to temperature changes, phage WO densities increase and inversely associate with Wolbachia densities. Heat has a marked effect on phage WO, yielding phage densities that are 552% higher than the room temperature control. Third, there is a significant affect of insect family on phage WO and endoysmbiont densities. Fourth, at extreme temperatures, there was a temperature-mediated adjustment to the density threshold at which Wolbachia cause complete cytoplasmic incompatibility. Taken together, these results demonstrate that temperature simultaneously affects phage WO densities, endosymbiont densities, and the penetrance of cytoplasmic incompatibility. While temperature shock enhances bacteriophage inducibility and the ensuing bacterial mortality in a wide range of medically and industrially-important bacteria, this is the first investigation of the associations in an obligate intracellular bacteria. Implications to a SOS global sensing feedback mechanism in Wolbachia are discussed.

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