A huge variety of Arthropod species is infected with endosymbiotic Wolbachia bacteria that manipulate their host’s reproduction to invade populations. In addition to vertical transmission from mother to offspring through the egg cytoplasm, it has been demonstrated through phylogenetic analyses and natural transfer experiments that horizontal transmission of Wolbachia (i.e. contagion) can occur between Arthropod hosts. More recently, factors influencing horizontal transfer have also been explored. While it is clear that horizontal transmission between species plays a major role in the evolutionary history of Wolbachia infections among insects, its role in the spread of a new infection through a host population, notably through within-species transfers, remained unknown. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Kraaijeveld et al. (2011) present the first evidence that horizontal transmission played a key role in the early spread of parthenogenesis-inducing Wolbachia through the parasitoid wasp Leptopilina clavipes. To support their finding, the authors studied genetic variation in three types of markers, including host nuclear DNA, mitochondrial DNA and Wolbachia DNA. Specifically, they examined potential associations between their diversity patterns. No diversity was detected in Wolbachia genes, indicating that a single Wolbachia strain must have infected and spread through L. clavipes. In addition, a correlation between substantial variation in mitochondrial and nuclear genotypes suggested that horizontal transmission played an important role in the current clonal genetic variation in this wasp. Such horizontal transmission could be facilitated by a specific host ecology (e.g. parasitoid wasps sharing the same host resource) and potentially impact co-evolution between host and symbiont.
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