Male-killing phenotypes are found in a variety of insects and are often associated with maternally inherited endosymbiotic bacteria. In several species of Drosophila, male-killing endosymbionts of the genus Spiroplasma have been found at low frequencies (0.1 to 3%). In this study, spiroplasma infection without causing male-killing was shown to be prevalent (23 to 66%) in Japanese populations of Drosophila hydei. Molecular phylogenetic analyses showed that D. hydei was infected with a single strain of spiroplasma, which was closely related to male-killing spiroplasmas from other Drosophila species. Artificial-transfer experiments suggested that the spiroplasma genotype rather than the host genotype was responsible for the absence of the male-killing phenotype. Infection densities of the spiroplasma in the natural host, D. hydei, and in the artificial host, Drosophila melanogaster, were significantly lower than those of the male-killing spiroplasma NSRO, which was in accordance with the hypothesis that a threshold infection density is needed for the spiroplasma-induced male-killing expression.
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