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Symbionts can regulate animal reproduction in multiple ways, but the underlying physiological and biochemical mechanisms remain largely unknown. The presence of multiple lineages of maternally inherited, intracellular symbionts (the primary and secondary symbionts) in terrestrial arthropods is widespread in nature. However, the biological, metabolic, and evolutionary role of co-resident secondary symbionts for hosts is poorly understood. The bacterial symbionts Hamiltonella and Arsenophonus have very high prevalence in two globally important pests, the whiteflies Bemisia tabaci and Trialeurodes vaporariorum, respectively. Both symbionts coexist with the primary symbiont Portiera in the same host cell (bacteriocyte) and are maternally transmitted. We found that elimination of both Hamiltonella and Arsenophonous by antibiotic treatment reduced the percentage of female offspring in whiteflies. Microsatellite genotyping and cytogenetic analysis revealed that symbiont deficiency inhibited fertilization in whiteflies, leading to more haploid males with one maternal allele, which is consistent with distorted sex ratio in whiteflies. Quantification of essential amino acids and B vitamins in whiteflies indicated that symbiont deficiency reduced B vitamin levels, and dietary B vitamin supplementation rescued fitness of whiteflies. This study, for the first time, conclusively demonstrates that these two intracellular symbionts affect sex ratios in their whitefly hosts by regulating fertilization and supplying B vitamins. Our results reveal that both symbionts have the convergent function of regulating reproduction in phylogenetically-distant whitefly species. The 100% frequency, the inability of whiteflies to develop normally without their symbiont, and rescue with B vitamins suggests that both symbionts may be better considered co-primary symbionts.


Yan-Bin Wang, Fei-Rong Ren, Ya-Lin Yao, Xiang Sun, Linda L Walling, Na-Na Li, Bing Bai, Xi-Yu Bao, Xiao-Rui Xu, Jun-Bo Luan. Intracellular symbionts drive sex ratio in the whitefly by facilitating fertilization and provisioning of B vitamins. The ISME journal. 2020 Dec;14(12):2923-2935

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PMID: 32690936

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