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An elusive endosymbiont: Does Wolbachia occur naturally in Aedes aegypti?

By Perran A. Ross, Ashley G. Callahan, Qiong Yang, Moshe Jasper, A. K. M. Arif, A. Noor Afizah, W. A. Nazni, Ary A Hoffmann

Posted 17 Oct 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/798736 (published DOI: 10.1002/ece3.6012)

Wolbachia are maternally-inherited endosymbiotic bacteria found within many insect species. Aedes mosquitoes experimentally infected with Wolbachia are being released into the field for Aedes- borne disease control. These Wolbachia infections induce cytoplasmic incompatibility which is used to suppress populations through incompatible matings or replace populations through the reproductive advantage provided by this mechanism. However the presence of naturally-occurring Wolbachia in target populations could interfere with both population replacement and suppression programs depending on the compatibility patterns between strains. Aedes aegypti were thought to not harbor Wolbachia naturally but several recent studies have detected Wolbachia in natural populations of this mosquito. We therefore review the evidence for natural Wolbachia infections in Ae. aegypti to date and discuss limitations of these studies. We draw on research from other mosquito species to outline the potential implications of natural Wolbachia infections in Ae. aegypti for disease control. To validate previous reports, we obtained a laboratory population of Ae. aegypti from New Mexico, USA, that harbors a natural Wolbachia infection, and we conducted field surveys in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where a natural Wolbachia infection has also been reported. However, we were unable to detect Wolbachia infection in both the laboratory and field populations. Because the presence of naturally-occurring Wolbachia in Ae. aegypti could have profound implications for Wolbachia -based disease control programs, it is important to continue to accurately assess the Wolbachia status of target Aedes populations.

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