Wolbachia in the flesh: Symbiont intensities in germ-line and somatic tissues challenge the conventional view of Wolbachia transmission routes
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Symbionts can substantially affect the evolution and ecology of their hosts. The investigation of the tissue-specific distribution of symbionts (tissue tropism) can provide important insight into host-symbiont interactions. Among other things, it can help to discern the importance of specific transmission routes and potential phenotypic effects. The intracellular bacterial symbiont Wolbachia has been described as the greatest ever panzootic, due to the wide array of arthropods that it infects. Being primarily vertically transmitted, it is expected that the transmission of Wolbachia would be enhanced by focusing infection in the reproductive tissues. In social insect hosts, this tropism would logically extend to reproductive rather than sterile castes, since the latter constitute a dead-end for vertically transmission. Here, we show that Wolbachia are not focused on reproductive tissues of eusocial insects, and that non-reproductive tissues of queens and workers of the ant Acromyrmex echinatior, harbour substantial infections. In particular, the comparatively high intensities of Wolbachia in the haemolymph, fat body, and faeces, suggest potential for horizontal transmission via parasitoids and the faecal-oral route, or a role for Wolbachia modulating the immune response of this host. It may be that somatic tissues and castes are not the evolutionary dead-end for Wolbachia that is commonly thought. © 2014 Frost et al.
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