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Association between Wolbachia and Spiroplasma within Drosophila neotestacea: an emerging symbiotic mutualism?


John Jaenike, Fax: 585 275 2070; E-mail:


Interspecific mutualism can evolve when specific lineages of different species tend to be associated with each other from one generation to the next. Different maternally transmitted endosymbionts occurring within the same cytoplasmic lineage fulfil this requirement. Drosophila neotestacea is infected with maternally transmitted Wolbachia and Spiroplasma, which are cotransmitted at high frequency in natural populations. Molecular phylogenetic evidence indicates that both endosymbionts have been present in D. neotestacea for considerable evolutionary periods. Thus, conditions are suitable for the evolution of mutualism between them. In support of this possibility, there is a significant positive association between Wolbachia and Spiroplasma infection in many samples of D. neotestacea from natural populations. Theoretically, such a positive association can result from either mutualism between these endosymbionts or recent spread. Collections from present-day populations suggest that recent spread and mutualism have both operated to generate the positive association between Wolbachia and Spiroplasma. If selection acts on the combination of these two endosymbionts, they may be in the early stages of evolution of a more complex, cooperative association.