WWWD – What would Wolbachia do? Not always male destruction. Not always mutualism. Sometimes they disappear.

Interesting paper in Nature Genetics: Genomics of Loa loa, a Wolbachia-free filarial parasite of humans : Nature Genetics : Nature Publishing Group.  It is “Open” due to the NPG policy for papers reporting genome data.

Anyway – the paper deals in parts with the biology of the interaction between Wolbachia and filiarial nematodes.  Wolbachia are these fascinating intracellular bacteria that are found to infect a diversity of invertebrate species.  In 2004 we published the genome sequence of the first Wolbachia genome – a strain that infects Drosophila melanogaster and causes male specific detrimental effects (see summary here and our paper here and a general review here).  Many of the Wolbacia that are well studied have male specific effects leading us to jokingly call them “WMDs” the Wolbachia of male destruction.

Interestingly, Wolbachia also infect filarial nematodes, such as the ones that cause various nasty diseases.  And these Wolbachia not only do not have any obvious male specific detrimental effects, they appear to be mutualistic symbionts of the nematodes.  That is where this paper comes in.  The authors sequenced the genome of a filarial nematode that does not have any Wolbachia.  The premise here is – if Wolbachia are needed for other nematodes maybe one can figure out what Wolbachia do by identifying features in the Wolbachia-free nematode that are not in the ones with Wolbachia. 

They write

Loa loa, the African eyeworm, is a major filarial pathogen of humans. Unlike most filariae, L. loa does not contain the obligate intracellular Wolbachia endosymbiont. We describe the 91.4-Mb genome of L. loa and that of the related filarial parasite Wuchereria bancrofti and predict 14,907 L. loa genes on the basis of microfilarial RNA sequencing. By comparing these genomes to that of another filarial parasite, Brugia malayi, and to those of several other nematodes, we demonstrate synteny among filariae but not with nonparasitic nematodes. The L. loa genome encodes many immunologically relevant genes, as well as protein kinases targeted by drugs currently approved for use in humans. Despite lacking Wolbachia, L. loa shows no new metabolic synthesis or transport capabilities compared to other filariae. These results suggest that the role of Wolbachia in filarial biology is more subtle than previously thought and reveal marked differences between parasitic and nonparasitic nematodes.

Anyway – the paper is worth checking out.

Figure 3: Phylogenomic analysis of nematodes.. Maximum likelihood, parsimony and Bayesian methods all estimated an identical phylogeny using the concatenated protein sequences of 921 single-copy orthologs. To the left of each node are likelihood bootstrap support values/parsimony bootstrap support values/Bayesian posterior probabilities. The distributions of genes in the ortholog clusters are shown to the right of the phylogeny. Core genes are encoded by all genomes, shared genes are encoded by at least two but fewer than all genomes, and unique genes are found only in one genome. Orthologs specific to the nonparasitic (C. elegans, C. briggsae and P. pacificus) and filarial nematodes are also highlighted. Of the 6,280 L. loa genes with no functional assignment, 3,665 are unique to L. loa and 1,158 are filarial specific. From http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ng.2585.html

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

One thought on “WWWD – What would Wolbachia do? Not always male destruction. Not always mutualism. Sometimes they disappear.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: