Growth and maintenance of wolbachia in insect cell lines

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13 Scopus citations


The obligate intracellular microbe, Wolbachia pipientis (Rickettsiales; Anaplasmataceae), is a Gram-negative member of the alpha proteobacteria that infects arthropods and filarial worms. Although closely related to the genera Anaplasma and Ehrlichia, which include pathogens of humans, Wolbachia is uniquely associated with invertebrate hosts in the clade Ecdysozoa. Originally described in Culex pipiens mosquitoes, Wolbachia is currently represented by 17 supergroups and is believed to occur in half of all insect species. In mosquitoes, Wolbachia acts as a gene drive agent, with the potential to modify vector populations; in filarial worms, Wolbachia functions as a symbiont, and is a target for drug therapy. A small number of Wolbachia strains from supergroups A, B, and F have been maintained in insect cell lines, which are thought to provide a more permissive environment than the natural host. When transferred back to an insect host, Wolbachia produced in cultured cells are infectious and retain reproductive phenotypes. Here, I review applications of insect cell lines in Wolbachia research and describe conditions that facilitate Wolbachia infection and replication in naive host cells. Progress in manipulation of Wolbachia in vitro will enable genetic and biochemical advances that will facilitate eventual genetic engineering of this important biological control agent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number706
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Work in the author’s lab is currently supported by the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, St. Paul, MN, USA. I thank former students for participation in this work and the NIH for past financial support. I dedicate this review to the memory of Que Lan, 1959–2014.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Alpha-proteobacteria
  • Cell culture
  • Genetic manipulation
  • Insect cell lines
  • Mosquito
  • Reproductive parasite
  • Symbiont
  • Wolbachia


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