Horizontal transfer of Wolbachia between phylogenetically distant insect species by a naturally occurring mechanism

Curr Biol. 1999 Mar 25;9(6):313-6. doi: 10.1016/s0960-9822(99)80139-0.


Wolbachia is a genus of alpha-proteobacteria found in obligate intracellular association with a wide variety of arthropods, including an estimated 10-20% of all insect species [1]. Wolbachia represents one of a number of recently identified 'reproductive parasites' [2] which manipulate the reproduction of their hosts in ways that enhance their own transmission [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]. The influence of Wolbachia infection on the dynamics of host populations has focused considerable interest on its possible role in speciation through reproductive isolation [3] [10] [11] and as an agent of biological control [2] [12] [13]. Although Wolbachia normally undergoes vertical transmission through the maternal line of its host population [14], there is compelling evidence from molecular phylogenies that extensive horizontal (intertaxon) transmission must have occurred [1] [9] [15] [16] [17]. Some of the best candidate vectors for the horizontal transmission of Wolbachia are insect parasitoids [15], which comprise around 25% of all insect species and attack arthropods from an enormous range of taxa [18]. In this study, we used both fluorescence microscopy and PCR amplification with Wolbachia-specific primers to show that Wolbachia can be transmitted to a parasitic wasp (Leptopilina boulardi) from its infected host (Drosophila simulans) and subsequently undergo diminishing vertical transmission in this novel host species. These results are, to our knowledge, the first to reveal a natural horizontal transfer route for Wolbachia between phylogenetically distant insect species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA, Bacterial / isolation & purification
  • Female
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Insecta / microbiology*
  • Insecta / parasitology
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Ovary / microbiology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Pupa / microbiology
  • Rickettsiaceae / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Wasps / microbiology*
  • Wasps / physiology


  • DNA, Bacterial