Many tsetse species (Diptera: Glossinidae) harbour two morphologically different intracellular endosymbiotic microorganisms associated with gut tissue: primary (P) and secondary (S) endosymbionts. The P-endosymbionts of tsetse (Wigglesworthia glossinidia) are sequestered in specialized epithelial cells, bacteriocytes, which form a structure (bacteriome) in the anterior portion of the gut. Phylogenetic characterization of P-endosymbionts from the three subgenera of genus Glossina has shown that these organisms constitute a distinct lineage within the γ-subdivision of Proteobacteria and have evolved concordantly with their insect host species, suggesting an evolutionarily ancient association for this symbiosis. The S-endosymbiont is a smaller (1–2 μm) gram-negative rod and is harboured in midgut epithelial cells. Its phylogenetic characterization from Glossina morsitans morsitans had shown that it is a member of the family Enterobacteriaceae within the γ-3 subdivision of the Proteobacteria, closely related to enteric bacteria. Some tsetse species harbour a third bacterium in their reproductive tissue, which was shown phylogenetically to belong to the Wolbachia pipientis assemblage of microorganisms.
Here, we show that S-endosymbionts from five tsetse species, representing all three subgenera, form a cluster of closely related microorganisms, based on their almost identical 16S rRNA gene sequences. This high similarity provides strong evidence of recent independent acquisition of S-endosymbionts by individual tsetse species, unlike Wigglesworthia which displays concordant evolution with host insect species. A PCR-based assay and restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis was developed to localize the S-endosymbionts and Wigglesworthia in ovary, egg, milk-gland and spermatheca tissues in order to investigate the potential routes for the vertical transmission of these symbionts to the intrauterine larvae. Only S-endosymbionts were found to infect milk gland tissue, suggesting that milk gland secretions represent a route of transmission for these symbionts into the developing larva. The ovary tissue was found to harbour only Wolbachia, confirming its transovarial transmission, whereas the mode of transmission of Wigglesworthia remains unknown.