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PLoS Pathog. 2015 Jul 1;11(7):e1005021. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1005021. eCollection 2015 Jul.

Should Symbionts Be Nice or Selfish? Antiviral Effects of Wolbachia Are Costly but Reproductive Parasitism Is Not.

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Department of Genetics, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom.


Symbionts can have mutualistic effects that increase their host's fitness and/or parasitic effects that reduce it. Which of these strategies evolves depends in part on the balance of their costs and benefits to the symbiont. We have examined these questions in Wolbachia, a vertically transmitted endosymbiont of insects that can provide protection against viral infection and/or parasitically manipulate its hosts' reproduction. Across multiple symbiont strains we find that the parasitic phenotype of cytoplasmic incompatibility and antiviral protection are uncorrelated. Strong antiviral protection is associated with substantial reductions in other fitness-related traits, whereas no such trade-off was detected for cytoplasmic incompatibility. The reason for this difference is likely that antiviral protection requires high symbiont densities but cytoplasmic incompatibility does not. These results are important for the use of Wolbachia to block dengue virus transmission by mosquitoes, as natural selection to reduce these costs may lead to reduced symbiont density and the loss of antiviral protection.

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