A single mutation weakens symbiont-induced reproductive manipulation through reductions in deubiquitylation efficiency

John F. Beckmann, Kelley van Vaerenberghe, Daniel E. Akwa, Brandon S. Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Animals interact with microbes that affect their performance and fitness, including endosymbionts that reside inside their cells. Maternally transmitted Wolbachia bacteria are the most common known endosymbionts, in large part because of their manipulation of host reproduction. For example, many Wolbachia cause cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI) that reduces host embryonic viability when Wolbachia-modified sperm fertilize uninfected eggs. Operons termed cifs control CI, and a single factor (cifA) rescues it, providing Wolbachia-infected females a fitness advantage. Despite CI’s prevalence in nature, theory indicates that natural selection does not act to maintain CI, which varies widely in strength. Here, we investigate the genetic and functional basis of CI-strength variation observed among sister Wolbachia that infect Drosophila melanogaster subgroup hosts. We cloned, Sanger sequenced, and expressed cif repertoires from weak CI–causing wYak in Drosophila yakuba, revealing mutations suspected to weaken CI relative to model wMel in D. melanogaster. A single valine-to-leucine mutation within the deubiquitylating (DUB) domain of the wYak cifB homolog (cidB) ablates a CI-like phenotype in yeast. The same mutation reduces both DUB efficiency in vitro and transgenic CI strength in the fly, each by about twofold. Our results map hypomorphic transgenic CI to reduced DUB activity and indicate that deubiquitylation is central to CI induction in cid systems. We also characterize effects of other genetic variation distinguishing wMel-like cifs. Importantly, CI strength determines Wolbachia prevalence in natural systems and directly influences the efficacy of Wolbachia biocontrol strategies in transinfected mosquito systems. These approaches rely on strong CI to reduce human disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2113271118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number39
StatePublished - Sep 28 2021


  • Cytoplasmic incompatibility
  • Drosophila
  • Endosymbiosis
  • Ubiquitin
  • Wolbachia


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