Quality over quantity: unraveling the contributions to cytoplasmic incompatibility caused by two coinfecting Cardinium symbionts

M. R. Doremus, C. M. Stouthamer, S. E. Kelly, S. Schmitz-Esser and M. S. Hunter,  Heredity,  2022.

Cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI) is a common form of reproductive sabotage caused by maternally inherited bacterial symbionts of arthropods. CI is a two-step manipulation: first, the symbiont modifies sperm in male hosts which results in the death of fertilized, uninfected embryos. Second, when females are infected with a compatible strain, the symbiont reverses sperm modification in the fertilized egg, allowing offspring of infected females to survive and spread the symbiont to high frequencies in a population. Although CI plays a role in arthropod evolution, the mechanism of CI is unknown for many symbionts. Cardinium hertigii is a common CI-inducing symbiont of arthropods, including parasitoid wasps like Encarsia partenopea. This wasp harbors two Cardinium strains, cEina2 and cEina3, and exhibits strong CI. The strains infect wasps at different densities, with the cEina3 present at a lower density than cEina2, and it was previously not known which strain caused CI. By differentially curing wasps of cEina3, we found that this low-density symbiont is responsible for CI and modifies males during their pupal stage. cEina2 does not modify host reproduction and may spread by ‘hitchhiking’ with cEina3 CI or by conferring an unknown benefit. The cEina3 strain also shows a unique localization pattern in male reproductive tissues. Instead of infecting sperm like other CI-inducing symbionts, cEina3 cells are found in somatic cells at the testis base and around the seminal vesicle. This may allow the low-density cEina3 to efficiently modify host males and suggests that cEina3 uses a different modification strategy than sperm-infecting CI symbionts.

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