Rapid Global Spread of wRi-like Wolbachia across Multiple Drosophila

Michael Turelli, Brandon S. Cooper, Kelly M. Richardson, Paul S. Ginsberg, Brooke Peckenpaugh, Chenling X. Antelope, Kevin J. Kim, Michael R. May, Antoine Abrieux, Derek A. Wilson, Michael J. Bronski, Brian R. Moore, Jian Jun Gao, Michael B. Eisen, Joanna C. Chiu, William R. Conner, Ary A. Hoffmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Maternally transmitted Wolbachia, Spiroplasma, and Cardinium bacteria are common in insects [1], but their interspecific spread is poorly understood. Endosymbionts can spread rapidly within host species by manipulating host reproduction, as typified by the global spread of wRi Wolbachia observed in Drosophila simulans [2, 3]. However, because Wolbachia cannot survive outside host cells, spread between distantly related host species requires horizontal transfers that are presumably rare [4–7]. Here, we document spread of wRi-like Wolbachia among eight highly diverged Drosophila hosts (10–50 million years) over only about 14,000 years (5,000–27,000). Comparing 110 wRi-like genomes, we find ≤0.02% divergence from the wRi variant that spread rapidly through California populations of D. simulans. The hosts include both globally invasive species (D. simulans, D. suzukii, and D. ananassae) and narrowly distributed Australian endemics (D. anomalata and D. pandora) [8]. Phylogenetic analyses that include mtDNA genomes indicate introgressive transfer of wRi-like Wolbachia between closely related species D. ananassae, D. anomalata, and D. pandora but no horizontal transmission within species. Our analyses suggest D. ananassae as the Wolbachia source for the recent wRi invasion of D. simulans and D. suzukii as the source of Wolbachia in its sister species D. subpulchrella. Although six of these wRi-like variants cause strong cytoplasmic incompatibility, two cause no detectable reproductive effects, indicating that pervasive mutualistic effects [9, 10] complement the reproductive manipulations for which Wolbachia are best known. “Super spreader” variants like wRi may be particularly useful for controlling insect pests and vector-borne diseases with Wolbachia transinfections [11]. Turelli et al. document rapid spread of very similar strains of the endosymbiotic bacterium Wolbachia across eight Drosophila host species. Whole Wolbachia genomes indicate that the strains diverged less than 30,000 years ago yet spread through Drosophila hosts that diverged 10–50 million years ago via horizontal transmission and introgression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)963-971.e8
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 19 2018


  • cytoplasmic incompatibility
  • disease control
  • horizontal transmission
  • introgression
  • mitochondrial variation
  • mutualistic endosymbiont


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