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Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR) 2003 awards

"Integrative Studies of Wolbachia-Eukaryotic Interactions: Genomes to Communities and Back"

a stained egg of the small parasitic wasp
In a stained egg of the small parasitic wasp, Trichogramma kaykai, are brightly staining Wolbachia. The bacteria accumulate at the end of the egg that is destined to develop into the reproductive organs. Wolbachia induce the eggs of this wasp to develop into female offspring without fertilization.
Photo Credit: Merijn Salverda and Richard Stouthamer
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September 2003

Sometimes an animal passes on more than just its genes to its offspring. In some cases, bacterial and viral parasites go along for the reproductive ride. They might even determine whether or not the host animal reproduces.

Such relationships underscore the notion that genomes do not exist in isolation, a concept to be pursued by a team of researchers headed by John Werren of the University of Rochester. To examine how much these close interactions shape the evolution of the interacting genomes, their NSF Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research project will tackle the case of the Wolbachia bacterium and the insects it infects.

Wolbachia, found in a variety of insects worldwide, interacts in a range of ways with its hosts. In many insects, for example, the bacterium alters the reproductive capacity of its host to ensure that only infected individuals can reproduce. This ensures the propagation of the bacterium; and it can create reproductively isolated populations, and therefore possibly lead to new species.

The project seeks to determine how Wolbachia manipulate insect reproduction, and how these manipulations affect insects. To do so, it will address some specific questions: For example, how do Wolbachia move between insect species? What genetic transfers take place between the bacteria and hosts? What mechanisms control the parasite's manipulation and host's response to it? And do the bacterial and host genes controlling the interaction evolve more quickly than other genes, leading to what Werren calls a potential "genetic arms race"?

Lead principal investigator (University of Rochester):
John Werren, (585) 275-3889,

Participating institutions:

  • University of Rochester (Werren, John Jaenike, Mitsunori Ogihara)
  • American Museum of Natural History (Rob DeSalle, Donald Windsor)
  • University of California, Riverside (Cheryl Hayashi, Richard Stouthamer, John Heraty)
  • Oregon State University (Andrew Brower)
  • University of California, Santa Cruz (William Sullivan)
  • Humboldt University, Germany (Peter Hammerstein)
  • Yale University (Kevin White)
  • The Institute for Genomic Research (Herve Tettelin, Jonathan Eisen)

Media contact at University of Rochester: Jonathan Sherwood, (585) 273-4726,

Total funding (est.), through August 2008: $4,934,718

Helpful web sites:
Wolbachia and Other Inherited Microorganisms:
University of Rochester release on earlier research:

Award abstract:

The FIBR projects announced today include the following:

Return to news release.


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