Wolbachia is the most widespread bacterial endosymbiont in insects. It is responsible for a variety of reproductive alterations of the hosts. Wolbachia is transmitted through the germline from mother to offspring and, in rare cases, between individuals. This implies that acquired properties (through symbiosis with Wolbachia) can become heritable. We investigated the transovarial inheritance of Wolbachia in two phylogenetically distant insects, Drosophila melanogaster and Zyginidia pullula. We detected in both systems bacteriocyte-like cells, densely packed with Wolbachia endosymbionts, at the tip of the ovarioles. Bacteriocytes are cells specialized to harbour bacteria, typical of mutualistic insect symbiosis. Our observations of bacteriocyte-like cells harbouring Wolbachia in the ovary emphasize the plasticity of the female reproductive system of insects, which maintains its function while some cells are densely colonized by bacteria. In summary, there is evidence from different insects that bacteria which behave as parasites of reproduction are harboured by cells resembling bacteriocytes, which appear to mediate transmission of the bacteria to the progeny. It seems a valid hypothesis that the bacteriocyte-like cells that we observed are not the result of a co-evolution of host and symbiont, considering that Wolbachia is not an obligatory symbiont in Drosophila and Zyginidia.
- Drosophila melanogaster