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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2006 Nov;72(11):6934-7. Epub 2006 Sep 1.

Survival of Wolbachia pipientis in cell-free medium.

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The W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, The Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, 615 N. Wolfe Street, E4626, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.


Wolbachia pipientis is an obligate intracellular bacterium found in a wide range of invertebrate taxa. While over ecological timescales Wolbachia infections are maintained by strict maternal inheritance, horizontal transfer events are common over evolutionary time. To be horizontally transferred between organisms, Wolbachia bacteria must pass through and survive an extracellular phase. We used BacLight live-dead staining, PCR, and fluorescence in situ hybridization to assess the ability for purified Wolbachia bacteria to survive in cell-free media. We found that purified Wolbachia bacteria were able to survive extracellularly for up to 1 week with no decrease in viability. While no replication was observed in the extracellular phase, purified Wolbachia bacteria were able to reinvade cells and establish stable infections at all time points. The ability of Wolbachia bacteria to survive outside host cells may increase the probability of successful horizontal transfer and the exploitation of new ecological niches. Our development of methods to purify and maintain viable Wolbachia bacteria from cultured cells will be useful for other researchers studying Wolbachia biology.

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