Patterns of host cell inheritance in the bacterial symbiosis of whiteflies

Insect Sci. 2020 Oct;27(5):938-946. doi: 10.1111/1744-7917.12708. Epub 2019 Jul 23.


Whiteflies possess bacterial symbionts Candidatus Portiera aleyrodidium that are housed in specialized cells called bacteriocytes and are faithfully transmitted via the ovary to insect offspring. In one whitefly species studied previously, Bemisia tabaci MEAM1, transmission is mediated by somatic inheritance of bacteriocytes, with a single bacteriocyte transferred to each oocyte and persisting through embryogenesis to the next generation. Here, we investigate the mode of bacteriocyte transmission in two whitefly species, B. tabaci MED, the sister species of MEAM1, and the phylogenetically distant species Trialeurodes vaporariorum. Microsatellite analysis supported by microscopical studies demonstrates that B. tabaci MED bacteriocytes are genetically different from other somatic cells and persist through embryogenesis, as for MEAM1, but T. vaporariorum bacteriocytes are genetically identical to other somatic cells of the insect, likely mediated by the degradation of maternal bacteriocytes in the embryo. These two alternative modes of transmission provide a first demonstration among insect symbioses that the cellular processes underlying vertical transmission of bacterial symbionts can diversify among related host species associated with a single lineage of symbiotic bacteria.

Keywords: bacteriocyte; inheritance; somatic cells; symbiont transmission; whitefly.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Halomonadaceae / physiology*
  • Hemiptera / microbiology*
  • Heredity
  • Oocytes / microbiology*
  • Symbiosis*