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Wolbachia in a major African crop pest increases susceptibility to viral disease rather than protects

Research output: Contribution to journalLetter

Published

Journal publication date09/2012
JournalEcology Letters
Journal number9
Volume15
Number of pages8
Pages993-1000
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Wolbachia are common vertically transmitted endosymbiotic bacteria found in <similar to 70% of insect species. They have generated considerable recent interest due to the capacity of some strains to protect their insect hosts against viruses and the potential for this to reduce vector competence of a range of human diseases, including dengue. In contrast, here we provide data from field populations of a major crop pest, African armyworm (Spodoptera exempta), which show that the prevalence and intensity of infection with a nucleopolydrovirus (SpexNPV) is positively associated with infection with three strains of Wolbachia. We also use laboratory bioassays to demonstrate that infection with one of these strains, a male-killer, increases host mortality due to SpexNPV by 614 similar to times. These findings suggest that rather than protecting their lepidopteran host from viral infection, Wolbachia instead make them more susceptible. This finding potentially has implications for the biological control of other insect crop pests.