A male-killing Wolbachia endosymbiont is concealed by another endosymbiont and a nuclear suppressor

Kelly M. Richardson, Perran A. Ross, Brandon S. Cooper, William R. Conner, Tom Schmidt, Ary A. Hoffmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Bacteria that live inside the cells of insect hosts (endosymbionts) can alter the reproduction of their hosts, including the killing of male offspring (male killing, MK). MK has only been described in a few insects, but this may reflect challenges in detecting MK rather than its rarity. Here, we identify MK Wolbachia at a low frequency (around 4%) in natural populations of Drosophila pseudotakahashii. MK Wolbachia had a stable density and maternal transmission during laboratory culture, but the MK phenotype which manifested mainly at the larval stage was lost rapidly. MK Wolbachia occurred alongside a second Wolbachia strain expressing a different reproductive manipulation, cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI). A genomic analysis highlighted Wolbachia regions diverged between the 2 strains involving 17 genes, and homologs of the wmk and cif genes implicated in MK and CI were identified in the Wolbachia assembly. Doubly infected males induced CI with uninfected females but not females singly infected with CI-causing Wolbachia. A rapidly spreading dominant nuclear suppressor genetic element affecting MK was identified through backcrossing and subsequent analysis with ddRAD SNPs of the D. pseudotakahashii genome. These findings highlight the complexity of nuclear and microbial components affecting MK endosymbiont detection and dynamics in populations and the challenges of making connections between endosymbionts and the host phenotypes affected by them.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3001879
Pages (from-to)e3001879
JournalPLoS Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • Animals
  • Male
  • Wolbachia/genetics
  • Reproduction
  • Drosophila/genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Insecta
  • Symbiosis


Dive into the research topics of 'A male-killing Wolbachia endosymbiont is concealed by another endosymbiont and a nuclear suppressor'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this