Computational evidence for antitoxins associated with RelE/ParE, RatA, Fic, and AbiEii-family toxins in Wolbachia genomes

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Wolbachia is an obligate intracellular Gram-negative alpha-proteobacterium that has diverse effects on reproduction of arthropod hosts, including cytoplasmic incompatibility, male killing, feminization, and parthenogenesis. Some of these effects have important potential for control of insect pests, including mosquitoes that vector pathogens of humans. In mosquitoes, and in most other arthropods, elimination of Wolbachia by antibiotic treatment has no effect on host survival and reverses the Wolbachia-associated phenotype. Elimination of Wolbachia strain wFol, which enables parthenogenetic reproduction of the Collembolan, Folsomia candida, would result in population extinction. However, F. candida adults remain viable and resume reproduction when antibiotics are removed, suggesting that wFol survives antibiotic treatment in a quiescent persister state similar to that induced by chromosomally encoded toxin–antitoxin (TA) modules in free-living bacteria. Computational approaches were used to document the presence of antitoxin genes upstream of Wolbachia RelE/ParE, Fic, and AbiEii toxin genes. Moreover, this analysis revealed that Wolbachia RatA toxin is encoded by a single copy gene associated with an ssrS noncoding RNA gene. Documentation of potentially functional TA modules expands our understanding of the metabolic capabilities of Wolbachia, and provides an explanation for variable and sometimes contradictory results of antibiotic treatments. The presence of chromosomal TA modules in Wolbachia genomes suggests that wFol, and potentially other strains of Wolbachia, can enter a quiescent persister state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)891-909
Number of pages19
JournalMolecular Genetics and Genomics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, St. Paul MN.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.


  • Collembola
  • Insects
  • Persister cells
  • Reproductive parasitism
  • Symbiosis
  • Toxin/antitoxin modules
  • Wolbachia

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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