Dynamics of the Endosymbiont Rickettsia in an Insect Pest

Bodil N. Cass, Rachel Yallouz, Elizabeth C. Bondy, Netta Mozes-Daube, A. Rami Horowitz, Suzanne E. Kelly, Einat Zchori-Fein, Martha S. Hunter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


A new heritable bacterial association can bring a fresh set of molecular capabilities, providing an insect host with an almost instantaneous genome extension. Increasingly acknowledged as agents of rapid evolution, inherited microbes remain underappreciated players in pest management programs. A Rickettsia bacterium was tracked sweeping through populations of an invasive whitefly provisionally described as the “B” or “MEAM1” of the Bemisia tabaci species complex, in the southwestern USA. In this population, Rickettsia provides strong fitness benefits and distorts whitefly sex ratios under laboratory conditions. In contrast, whiteflies in Israel show few apparent fitness benefits from Rickettsia under laboratory conditions, only slightly decreasing development time. A survey of B. tabaci B samples revealed the distribution of Rickettsia across the cotton-growing regions of Israel and the USA. Thirteen sites from Israel and 22 sites from the USA were sampled. Across the USA, Rickettsia frequencies were heterogeneous among regions, but were generally very high, whereas in Israel, the infection rates were lower and declining. The distinct outcomes of Rickettsia infection in these two countries conform to previously reported phenotypic differences. Intermediate frequencies in some areas in both countries may indicate a cost to infection in certain environments or that the frequencies are in flux. This suggests underlying geographic differences in the interactions between bacterial symbionts and this serious agricultural pest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-297
Number of pages11
JournalMicrobial ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 28 2015


  • B biotype
  • Bemisia argentifolii
  • Bemisia tabaci
  • Diagnostic PCR
  • Middle East-Asia Minor 1 (MEAM1)
  • Whitefly

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Soil Science


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