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  • Centre de Biologie pour la Gestion des Populations, INRA, Montpellier, France
  • Adaptation, Evolutionary Applications, Experimental Evolution, Phenotypic Plasticity, Species interactions
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Wolbachia load variation in Drosophila is more likely caused by drift than by host genetic factors

Recommended by and based on reviews by Simon Fellous and 1 anonymous reviewer

Drift rather than host or parasite control can explain within-host Wolbachia growth

Within-host parasite density is tightly linked to parasite fitness often determining both transmission success and virulence (parasite-induced harm to the host) (Alizon et al., 2009, Anderson & May, 1982). Parasite density may thus be controlled by selection balancing these conflicting pressures. Actual within-host density regulation may be under host or parasite control, or due to other environmental factors (Wale et al., 2019, Vale et al., 2011, Chrostek et al., 2013). Vertically transmitted parasites may also be more vulnerable to drift associated with bottlenecks between generations, which may also determine within-host population size (Mathe-Hubert et al., 2019, Mira & Moran, 2002).

Bénard et al. (2021) use 3 experiments to disentangle the role of drift versus host factors in the control of within-host Wolbachia growth in Drosophila melanogaster. They use the wMelPop Wolbachia strain in which virulence (fly longevity) and within-host growth correlate positively with copy number in the genomic region Octomom (Chrostek et al., 2013, Chrostek & Teixeira, 2015). Octomom copy number can be used as a marker for different genetic lineages within the wMelPop strain.

In a first experiment, they introgressed and backcrossed this Wolbachia strain into 6 different host genetic backgrounds and show striking differences in within-host symbiont densities which correlate positively with Octomom copy number. This is consistent with host genotype selecting different Wolbachia strains, but also with bottlenecks and drift between generations. To distinguish between these possibilities, they perform 2 further experiments. 

A second experiment repeated experiment 1, but this time introgression was into 3 independent lines of the Bolivia and USA Drosophila populations; those that, respectively, exhibited the lowest and highest Wolbachia density and Octomom copy number. In this experiment, growth and Octomom copy number were measured across the 3 lines, for each population, after 1, 13 and 25 generations. Although there were little differences between replicates at generation 1, there were differences at generations 13 and 25 among the replicates of both the Bolivia and USA lines. These results are indicative of parasite control, or drift being responsible for within-host growth rather than host factors. 

A third experiment tested whether Wolbachia density and copy number were under host or parasite control. This was done, again using the USA and Bolivia lines, but this time those from the first experiment, several generations following the initial introgression and backcrossing. The newly introgressed lines were again followed for 25 generations. At generation 1, Wolbachia phenotypes resembled those of the donor parasite population and not the recipient host population indicating a possible maternal effect, but a lack of host control over the parasite. Furthermore, Wolbachia densities and Octomom number differed among replicate lines through time for Bolivia populations and from the donor parasite lines for both populations. These differences among replicate lines that share both host and parasite origins suggest that drift and/or maternal effects are responsible for within-host Wolbachia density and Octomom number. 

These findings indicate that drift appears to play a role in shaping Wolbachia evolution in this system. Nevertheless, completely ruling out the role of the host or parasite in controlling densities will require further study. The findings of Bénard and coworkers (2021) should stimulate future work on the contribution of drift to the evolution of vertically transmitted parasites.


Alizon S, Hurford A, Mideo N, Baalen MV (2009) Virulence evolution and the trade-off hypothesis: history, current state of affairs and the future. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 22, 245–259. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1420-9101.2008.01658.x

Anderson RM, May RM (1982) Coevolution of hosts and parasites. Parasitology, 85, 411–426. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0031182000055360

Bénard A, Henri H, Noûs C, Vavre F, Kremer N (2021) Wolbachia load variation in Drosophila is more likely caused by drift than by host genetic factors. bioRxiv, 2020.11.29.402545, ver. 4  recommended and peer-reviewed by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.11.29.402545

Chrostek E, Marialva MSP, Esteves SS, Weinert LA, Martinez J, Jiggins FM, Teixeira L (2013) Wolbachia Variants Induce Differential Protection to Viruses in Drosophila melanogaster: A Phenotypic and Phylogenomic Analysis. PLOS Genetics, 9, e1003896. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1003896

Chrostek E, Teixeira L (2015) Mutualism Breakdown by Amplification of Wolbachia Genes. PLOS Biology, 13, e1002065. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002065

Mathé‐Hubert H, Kaech H, Hertaeg C, Jaenike J, Vorburger C (2019) Nonrandom associations of maternally transmitted symbionts in insects: The roles of drift versus biased cotransmission and selection. Molecular Ecology, 28, 5330–5346. https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.15206

Mira A, Moran NA (2002) Estimating Population Size and Transmission Bottlenecks in Maternally Transmitted Endosymbiotic Bacteria. Microbial Ecology, 44, 137–143. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00248-002-0012-9

Vale PF, Wilson AJ, Best A, Boots M, Little TJ (2011) Epidemiological, Evolutionary, and Coevolutionary Implications of Context-Dependent Parasitism. The American Naturalist, 177, 510–521. https://doi.org/10.1086/659002

Wale N, Jones MJ, Sim DG, Read AF, King AA (2019) The contribution of host cell-directed vs. parasite-directed immunity to the disease and dynamics of malaria infections. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116, 22386–22392. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1908147116


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Parasitic success and venom composition evolve upon specialization of parasitoid wasps to different host species

Recommended by based on reviews by Simon Fellous, alexandre leitão and 1 anonymous reviewer

What makes a parasite successful? Parasitoid wasp venoms evolve rapidly in a host-specific manner

Parasitoid wasps have developed different mechanisms to increase their parasitic success, usually at the expense of host survival (Fellowes and Godfray, 2000). Eggs of these insects are deposited inside the juvenile stages of their hosts, which in turn deploy several immune response strategies to eliminate or disable them (Yang et al., 2020). Drosophila melanogaster protects itself against parasitoid attacks through the production of specific elongated haemocytes called lamellocytes which form a capsule around the invading parasite (Lavine and Strand, 2002; Rizki and Rizki, 1992) and the subsequent activation of the phenol-oxidase cascade leading to the release of toxic radicals (Nappi et al., 1995). On the parasitoid side, robust responses have evolved to evade host immune defenses as for example the Drosophila-specific endoparasite Leptopilina boulardi, which releases venom during oviposition that modifies host behaviour (Varaldi et al., 2006) and inhibits encapsulation (Gueguen et al., 2011; Martinez et al., 2012).
Studies have shown that the wasp parasitic capacity is correlated to venom presence and its content (Colinet et al., 2009; Poirié et al., 2014), including that evolution of venom protein composition is driven by different levels of host susceptibility to infection (Cavigliasso et al., 2019). However, it had not been determined to this day, if and how parasitic range can affect venom protein composition and to which extent host specialization requires broad-spectrum factors or a plethora of specialized components.
These outstanding questions are now approached in a study by Cavigliasso and colleagues (Cavigliasso et al., 2021), where they perform experimental evolution of L. boulardi for 9 generations exposing it to different Drosophila host species and genetic backgrounds (two strains of D. melanogaster, D. simulans and D. yakuba). The authors tested whether the parasitic success of each selection regime was host-specific and how they influenced venom composition in parasitoids. For the first part, infection outcomes were assayed for each selection regime when cross-infecting different hosts. To get a finer measurement of the mechanisms under selection, the authors differentiated three phenotypes: overall parasitic success, encapsulation inhibition and escape from capsule. Throughout the course of experimental evolution, only encapsulation inhibition did not show an improved response upon selection on any host. Importantly, the cross-infection scenario revealed a clear specificity to the selected host for each evolved resistance.
As for venom composition, a trend of differential evolution was detected between host species, although a significant part of that was due to a larger differentiation in the D. yakuba regime, which showed a completely different directionality. Importantly, the authors could identify some of the specific proteins targeted by the several selection regimes, whether selected or counter-selected for. Interestingly, the D. yakuba regime is the only case where the key parasitoid protein LbSPNy (Colinet et al., 2009) was not counter-selected and the only regime in which the overall venom composition did not evolve towards the Ism strain, one of the two ancestral strains of L. boulardi used in the study. It is possible that these two results are correlated, since LbSPNy has been described to inhibit activation of the phenoloxidase cascade in D. yakuba and is one of the most abundant proteins in the ISy venom, making it a good target for selection (Colinet et al., 2013). The authors also discuss the possibility that this difference is related to the geographical distribution of the strains of L. boulardi, since each coincide with either D. melanogaster or D. yakuba.
This methodologically broad work by Cavigliasso and colleagues constitutes an important experimental contribution towards the understanding of how parasitoid adaptation to specific hosts is achieved at different phenotypic and mechanistic levels. It provides compelling evidence that venom composition evolves differently in response to specific parasitic ranges, particularly considering the evolutionary difference between the selective hosts. In line with this result, it is also concluded that the majority of venom proteins selected are lineage-specific, although a few broad-spectrum factors could also be detected. 
The question of whether parasitic range can affect venom composition and parasitic success is still open to more contributions. A potentially interesting long-term direction will be to use a similar setup of experimental evolution on the generalist L. heterotoma (Schlenke et al., 2007) . On a more immediate horizon, comparing the venom evolution of both L. heterotoma and L. boulardi under selection with different hosts and under cross-infection scenarios could reveal interesting patterns. The recent sequencing of the L. boulardi genome together with the vast number of studies addressing mechanisms of Drosophila resistance to parasitoid infection, will enable the thorough characterization of the genetic basis of host-parasitoid interactions and the deeper understanding of these ubiquitous and economically-relevant relationships.
*This recommendation text has been co-written with Tânia F. Paulo who is not a recommender of PCI Evol Biol



Cavigliasso, F., Mathé-Hubert, H., Gatti, J.-L., Colinet, D. and Poirié, M. (2021) Parasitic success and venom composition evolve upon specialization of parasitoid wasps to different host species. bioRxiv, 2020.10.24.353417, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.10.24.353417

Cavigliasso, F., Mathé-Hubert, H., Kremmer, L., Rebuf, C., Gatti, J.-L., Malausa, T., Colinet, D., Poiré, M. and  Léne. (2019). Rapid and Differential Evolution of the Venom Composition of a Parasitoid Wasp Depending on the Host Strain. Toxins, 11(629). https://doi.org/10.3390/toxins11110629

Colinet, D., Deleury, E., Anselme, C., Cazes, D., Poulain, J., Azema-Dossat, C., Belghazi, M., Gatti, J. L. and  Poirié, M. (2013). Extensive inter- and intraspecific venom variation in closely related parasites targeting the same host: The case of Leptopilina parasitoids of Drosophila. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 43(7), 601–611. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ibmb.2013.03.010

Colinet, D., Dubuffet, A., Cazes, D., Moreau, S., Drezen, J. M. and  Poirié, M. (2009). A serpin from the parasitoid wasp Leptopilina boulardi targets the Drosophila phenoloxidase cascade. Developmental and Comparative Immunology, 33(5), 681–689. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dci.2008.11.013

Fellowes, M. D. E. and  Godfray, H. C. J. (2000). The evolutionary ecology of resistance to parasitoids by Drosophila. Heredity, 84(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2540.2000.00685.x

Gueguen, G., Rajwani, R., Paddibhatla, I., Morales, J. and  Govind, S. (2011). VLPs of Leptopilina boulardi share biogenesis and overall stellate morphology with VLPs of the heterotoma clade. Virus Research, 160(1–2), 159–165. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.virusres.2011.06.005

Lavine, M. D. and  Strand, M. R. (2002). Insect hemocytes and their role in immunity. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 32(10), 1295–1309. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0965-1748(02)00092-9

Martinez, J., Duplouy, A., Woolfit, M., Vavre, F., O’Neill, S. L. and  Varaldi, J. (2012). Influence of the virus LbFV and of Wolbachia in a host-parasitoid interaction. PloS One, 7(4), e35081. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0035081

Nappi, A. J., Vass, E., Frey, F. and  Carton, Y. (1995). Superoxide anion generation in Drosophila during melanotic encapsulation of parasites. European Journal of Cell Biology, 68(4), 450–456.

Poirié, M., Colinet, D. and  Gatti, J. L. (2014). Insights into function and evolution of parasitoid wasp venoms. Current Opinion in Insect Science, 6, 52–60. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cois.2014.10.004

Rizki, T. M. and  Rizki, R. M. (1992). Lamellocyte differentiation in Drosophila larvae parasitized by Leptopilina. Developmental and Comparative Immunology, 16(2–3), 103–110. https://doi.org/10.1016/0145-305X(92)90011-Z

Schlenke, T. A., Morales, J., Govind, S. and  Clark, A. G. (2007). Contrasting infection strategies in generalist and specialist wasp parasitoids of Drosophila melanogaster. PLoS Pathogens, 3(10), 1486–1501. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.0030158

Varaldi, J., Petit, S., Boulétreau, M. and  Fleury, F. (2006). The virus infecting the parasitoid Leptopilina boulardi exerts a specific action on superparasitism behaviour. Parasitology, 132(Pt 6), 747–756. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0031182006009930

Yang, L., Qiu, L., Fang, Q., Stanley, D. W. and  Gong‐Yin, Y. (2020). Cellular and humoral immune interactions between Drosophila and its parasitoids. Insect Science. https://doi.org/10.1111/1744-7917.12863




  • Centre de Biologie pour la Gestion des Populations, INRA, Montpellier, France
  • Adaptation, Evolutionary Applications, Experimental Evolution, Phenotypic Plasticity, Species interactions
  • recommender

Recommendations:  0

Reviews:  2