Evidence for a global Wolbachia replacement in Drosophila melanogaster

Curr Biol. 2005 Aug 9;15(15):1428-33. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2005.06.069.


Wolbachia are maternally inherited intracellular alpha-Proteobacteria found in numerous arthropod and filarial nematode species. They influence the biology of their hosts in many ways. In some cases, they act as obligate mutualists and are required for the normal development and reproduction of the host. They are best known, however, for the various reproductive parasitism traits that they can generate in infected hosts. These include cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI) between individuals of different infection status, the parthenogenetic production of females, the selective killing of male embryos, and the feminization of genetic males. Wolbachia infections of Drosophila melanogaster are extremely common in both wild populations and long-term laboratory stocks. Utilizing the newly completed genome sequence of Wolbachia pipientis wMel, we have identified a number of polymorphic markers that can be used to discriminate among five different Wolbachia variants within what was previously thought to be the single clonal infection of D. melanogaster. Analysis of long-term lab stocks together with wild-caught flies indicates that one of these variants has replaced the others globally within the last century. This is the first report of a global replacement of a Wolbachia strain in an insect host species. The sweep is at odds with current theory that cannot explain how Wolbachia can invade this host species given the observed cytoplasmic incompatibility characteristics of Wolbachia infections in D. melanogaster in the field.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Chromosomes, Bacterial / genetics*
  • DNA Primers
  • Drosophila melanogaster / microbiology*
  • Genetic Markers / genetics
  • Genotype
  • Minisatellite Repeats / genetics
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Reproduction / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Species Specificity
  • Wolbachia / genetics*


  • DNA Primers
  • Genetic Markers