Variable incidence of Spiroplasma infections in natural populations of Drosophila species

PLoS One. 2009 May 28;4(5):e5703. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005703.


Spiroplasma is widespread as a heritable bacterial symbiont in insects and some other invertebrates, in which it sometimes acts as a male-killer and causes female-biased sex ratios in hosts. Besides Wolbachia, it is the only heritable bacterium known from Drosophila, having been found in 16 of over 200 Drosophila species screened, based on samples of one or few individuals per species. To assess the extent to which Spiroplasma infection varies within and among species of Drosophila, intensive sampling consisting of 50-281 individuals per species was conducted for natural populations of 19 Drosophila species. Infection rates varied among species and among populations of the same species, and 12 of 19 species tested negative for all individuals. Spiroplasma infection never was fixed, and the highest infection rates were 60% in certain populations of D. hydei and 85% in certain populations of D. mojavensis. In infected species, infection rates were similar for males and females, indicating that these Spiroplasma infections do not confer a strong male-killing effect. These findings suggest that Spiroplasma has other effects on hosts that allow it to persist, and that environmental or host variation affects transmission or persistence leading to differences among populations in infection frequencies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drosophila / microbiology*
  • Geography
  • Gram-Negative Bacterial Infections / epidemiology*
  • Incidence
  • Population Dynamics
  • Spiroplasma / physiology*