Phylogeny and PCR-based classification of Wolbachia strains using wsp gene sequences

Proc Biol Sci. 1998 Mar 22;265(1395):509-15. doi: 10.1098/rspb.1998.0324.


Wolbachia are a group of intracellular inherited bacteria that infect a wide range of arthropods. They are associated with a number of different reproductive phenotypes in their hosts, such as cytoplasmic incompatibility, parthenogenesis and feminization. While it is known that the bacterial strains responsible for these different host phenotypes form a single clade within the alpha-Proteobacteria, until now it has not been possible to resolve the evolutionary relationships between different Wolbachia strains. To address this issue we have cloned and sequenced a gene encoding a surface protein of Wolbachia (wsp) from a representative sample of 28 Wolbachia strains. The sequences from this gene were highly variable and could be used to resolve the phylogenetic relationships of different Wolbachia strains. Based on the sequence of the wsp gene from different Wolbachia isolates we propose that the Wolbachia pipientis clade be initially divided into 12 groups. As more sequence information becomes available we expect the number of such groups to increase. In addition, we present a method of Wolbachia classification based on the use of group-specific wsp polymerase chain reaction (PGR) primers which will allow Wolbachia isolates to be typed without the need to clone and sequence individual Wolbachia genes. This system should facilitate future studies investigating the distribution and biology of Wolbachia strains from large samples of different host species.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropods / microbiology*
  • Base Sequence
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • DNA Primers
  • Drosophila / microbiology
  • Genes, Bacterial*
  • Insecta / microbiology*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Rickettsiaceae / classification*
  • Rickettsiaceae / genetics*


  • DNA Primers