Evidence for horizontal transfer of Wolbachia by a Drosophila mite


Mites are common ectoparasites of Drosophila and have been implicated in bacterial and mobile element invasion of Drosophila stocks. The obligate endobacterium, Wolbachia, has widespread effects on gene expression in their arthropod hosts and alters host reproduction to enhance its survival and propagation, often with deleterious effects in Drosophila hosts. To determine whether Wolbachia could be transferred between Drosophila melanogaster laboratory stocks by the mite Tyrophagus putrescentiae, mites were introduced to Wolbachia-infected Drosophila vials. These vials were kept adjacent to mite-free and Wolbachia-uninfected Drosophila stock vials. The Wolbachia infection statuses of the infected and uninfected flies were checked from generation 1 to 5. Results indicate that Wolbachia DNA could be amplified from mites infesting Wolbachia-infected fly stocks and infection in the previously uninfected stocks arose within generation 1 or 2, concomitant with invasion of mites from the Wolbachia-infected stock. A possible mechanism for the transfer of Wolbachia from flies to mites and vice versa, can be inferred from time-lapse photography of fly and mite interactions. We demonstrated that mites ingest Drosophila corpses, including Wolbachia-infected corpses, and Drosophila larva ingest mites, providing possible sources of Wolbachia infection and transfer. This research demonstrated that T. putrescentiae white mites can facilitate Wolbachia transfer between Drosophila stocks and that this may occur by ingestion of infected corpses. Mite-vectored Wolbachia transfer allows for rapid establishment of Wolbachia infection within a new population. This mode of Wolbachia introduction may be relevant in nature as well as in the laboratory, and could have a variety of biological consequences.

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We would like to extend our profound thanks to H. Proctor (U. Alberta) for assistance in mite identification, as well as discussion on mite biology. We would also like to thank H. Braig (Bangor University) and an anonymous reviewer for valuable comments on the manuscript, as well as N. Bartlett, J. Lewis and the members of the Lloyd lab for discussion. We thank Jim Ehrman for his expertise with the time-lapse photography and figure preparation. We thank the Bloomington Indiana Drosophila Stock Center for Drosophila stocks and our Drosophila colleagues who provided the mite-infested stocks that initiated this work. This work was funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council grant to VKL.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standard

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed and all procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution at which the studies were conducted.

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Correspondence to Vett K. Lloyd.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Mites consuming Drosophila corpses. Time lapse photography of white mites (and larvae) consuming the corpses of adult Drosophila (MOV 15965 kb)

Drosophila larvae consuming dead mites. Time lapse photography of larvae consuming the corpses of mites (MP4 973 kb)

Supplemental Video 1

Mites consuming Drosophila corpses. Time lapse photography of white mites (and larvae) consuming the corpses of adult Drosophila (MOV 15965 kb)

Supplemental Video 2

Drosophila larvae consuming dead mites. Time lapse photography of larvae consuming the corpses of mites (MP4 973 kb)

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Brown, A.N., Lloyd, V.K. Evidence for horizontal transfer of Wolbachia by a Drosophila mite. Exp Appl Acarol 66, 301–311 (2015) doi:10.1007/s10493-015-9918-z

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  • Wolbachia
  • Horizontal transfer
  • Tyrophagus putrescentiae
  • Drosophila mites
  • Drosophila melanogaster