Male-killing-associated bacteriophage WO identified from comparisons of Wolbachia endosymbionts of Homona magnanima

H. Arai, H. Anbutsu, Y. Nishikawa, M. Kogawa, K. Ishii, M. Hosokawa, S.-R. Lin, M. Ueda, M. Nakai, Y. Kunimi, T. Harumoto, D. Kageyama, H. Takeyama and M. N. Inoue,  bioRxiv,  2022.

The origin and mechanism of male-killing, an advantageous strategy employed by maternally transmitted symbionts such as Wolbachia, remain unclear. We compared genomes of four Wolbachia strains derived from Homona magnanima, a male-killing strain wHm-t (1.5 Mb), and three non-male-killing strains, wHm-a (1.1 Mb), wHm-b (1.3 Mb), and wHm-c (1.4 Mb). A wHm-t-specific 76-kbp prophage region harboured two tandemly arrayed WO-mediated killing (wmk) gene homologs (wmk-1/wmk-2 and wmk-3/wmk-4). Of these, wmk-1 or wmk-3 killed almost all Drosophila melanogaster individuals when transgenically overexpressed. Dual expression of wmk-3 and wmk-4 killed all males and rescued females. We propose a novel hypothesis wherein horizontally transmitted proto-Wolbachia with a single wmk killed both sexes, and tandem duplication of wmk allowed an evolutionary transition to a vertically transmitted symbiont, causing male-killing. Our study highlights the bacteriophage as a critical driver of the evolution of male-killing and argues for a conserved male-killing mechanism in diverse insects.

More related to this: