Endosymbiotic Rickettsiella causes cytoplasmic incompatibility in a spider host

Laura C. Rosenwald, Michael I. Sitvarin, Jennifer A. White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Many arthropod hosts are infected with bacterial endosymbionts that manipulate host reproduction, but few bacterial taxa have been shown to cause such manipulations. Here, we show that a bacterial strain in the genus Rickettsiella causes cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI) between infected and uninfected hosts. We first surveyed the bacterial community of the agricultural spider Mermessus fradeorum (Linyphiidae) using high throughput sequencing and found that individual spiders can be infected with up to five different strains of maternally inherited symbiont from the genera Wolbachia, Rickettsia, and Rickettsiella. The Rickettsiella strain was pervasive, found in all 23 tested spider matrilines. We used antibiotic curing to generate uninfected matrilines that we reciprocally crossed with individuals infected only with Rickettsiella. We found that only 13% of eggs hatched when uninfected females were mated with Rickettsiella-infected males; in contrast, at least 83% of eggs hatched in the other cross types. This is the first documentation of Rickettsiella, or any Gammaproteobacteria, causing CI. We speculate that induction of CI may be much more widespread among maternally inherited bacteria than previously appreciated. Further, our results reinforce the importance of thoroughly characterizing and assessing the inherited microbiome before attributing observed host phenotypes to well-characterized symbionts such as Wolbachia.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20201107
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1930
StatePublished - Jul 8 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s).


  • Araneae
  • Rickettsia
  • Rickettsiella
  • Wolbachia
  • cytoplasmic incompatibility
  • endosymbiont co-infection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)
  • Environmental Science (all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology (all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)


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