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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Molecular evidence for the evolution of ichnoviruses from ascoviruses by symbiogenesis

Yves Bigot123*, Sylvie Samain4, Corinne Augé-Gouillou12 and Brian A Federici5

Author Affiliations

1 Université François Rabelais de Tours, GICC, UFR des Sciences & Techniques, Parc de Grandmont, 37200 Tours, FRANCE

2 CNRS, UMR 6239, UFR des Sciences & Techniques, Parc de Grandmont, 37200 Tours, France

3 CHRU de Tours, Bd Tonnelé, 37032 Tours, France

4 GENOSCOPE, 2 rue Gaston Crémieux, CP 5706, 91057 Evry, France

5 Department of Entomology & Graduate Programs in Genetics, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology, University of California, Riverside, CA92521, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:253  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-253

Published: 18 September 2008



Female endoparasitic ichneumonid wasps inject virus-like particles into their caterpillar hosts to suppress immunity. These particles are classified as ichnovirus virions and resemble ascovirus virions, which are also transmitted by parasitic wasps and attack caterpillars. Ascoviruses replicate DNA and produce virions. Polydnavirus DNA consists of wasp DNA replicated by the wasp from its genome, which also directs particle synthesis. Structural similarities between ascovirus and ichnovirus particles and the biology of their transmission suggest that ichnoviruses evolved from ascoviruses, although molecular evidence for this hypothesis is lacking.


Here we show that a family of unique pox-D5 NTPase proteins in the Glypta fumiferanae ichnovirus are related to three Diadromus pulchellus ascovirus proteins encoded by ORFs 90, 91 and 93. A new alignment technique also shows that two proteins from a related ichnovirus are orthologs of other ascovirus virion proteins.


Our results provide molecular evidence supporting the origin of ichnoviruses from ascoviruses by lateral transfer of ascoviral genes into ichneumonid wasp genomes, perhaps the first example of symbiogenesis between large DNA viruses and eukaryotic organisms. We also discuss the limits of this evidence through complementary studies, which revealed that passive lateral transfer of viral genes among polydnaviral, bacterial, and wasp genomes may have occurred repeatedly through an intimate coupling of both recombination and replication of viral genomes during evolution. The impact of passive lateral transfers on evolutionary relationships between polydnaviruses and viruses with large double-stranded genomes is considered in the context of the theory of symbiogenesis.