Vertically transmitted viral endosymbionts of insects: do sigma viruses walk alone?

Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Oct 7;279(1744):3889-98. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1208. Epub 2012 Aug 1.


Insects are host to a wide range of vertically transmitted bacterial endosymbionts, but we know relatively little about their viral counterparts. Here, we discuss the vertically transmitted viral endosymbionts of insects, firstly examining the diversity of this group, and then focusing on the well-studied sigma viruses that infect dipterans. Despite limited sampling, evidence suggests that vertically transmitted viruses may be common in insects. Unlike bacteria, viruses can be transmitted through sperm and eggs, a trait that allows them to rapidly spread through host populations even when infection is costly to the host. Work on Drosophila melanogaster has shown that sigma viruses and their hosts are engaged in a coevolutionary arms race, in which the spread of resistance genes in the host population is followed by the spread of viral genotypes that can overcome host resistance. In the long-term, associations between sigma viruses and their hosts are unstable, and the viruses persist by occasionally switching to new host species. It therefore seems likely that viral endosymbionts have major impacts on the evolution and ecology of insects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena
  • Biodiversity
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Diptera / physiology
  • Diptera / virology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / virology
  • Insecta / genetics*
  • Insecta / physiology
  • Insecta / virology*
  • Reproduction
  • Rhabdoviridae / genetics
  • Rhabdoviridae / physiology*
  • Symbiosis