This article is part of the supplement: Arthropod symbioses: from fundamental studies to pest and disease management

Open Access Research

Detection and characterization of Wolbachia infections in laboratory and natural populations of different species of tsetse flies (genus Glossina)

Vangelis Doudoumis18, George Tsiamis18, Florence Wamwiri25, Corey Brelsfoard23, Uzma Alam2, Emre Aksoy2, Stelios Dalaperas18, Adly Abd-Alla4, Johnson Ouma5, Peter Takac6, Serap Aksoy2 and Kostas Bourtzis178*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Environmental and Natural Resources Management, University of Ioannina, 2 Seferi St, 30100 Agrinio, Greece

2 Yale University School of Public Health, 60 College St., 811 LEPH, New Haven, CT 06520, USA

3 Current address: Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky, S-225 Ag. Science Center North, Lexington, KY 40546, USA

4 Insect Pest Control Laboratory, Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, Vienna, Austria

5 Trypanosomiasis Research Centre, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, P.O. Box 362, Kikuyu 00902, Kenya

6 Institute of Zoology, Section of Molecular and Applied Zoology, Slovak Academy of Science, Dubravska cesta 9, 845 06 Bratislava, Slovakia

7 Biomedical Sciences Research Center Al. Fleming, 16672 Vari, Greece

8 Present Address: Department of Environmental and Natural Resources Management, University of Western Greece, 2 Seferi St, 30100 Agrinio, Greece

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BMC Microbiology 2012, 12(Suppl 1):S3  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-12-S1-S3

Published: 18 January 2012



Wolbachia is a genus of endosymbiotic α-Proteobacteria infecting a wide range of arthropods and filarial nematodes. Wolbachia is able to induce reproductive abnormalities such as cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI), thelytokous parthenogenesis, feminization and male killing, thus affecting biology, ecology and evolution of its hosts. The bacterial group has prompted research regarding its potential for the control of agricultural and medical disease vectors, including Glossina spp., which transmits African trypanosomes, the causative agents of sleeping sickness in humans and nagana in animals.


In the present study, we employed a Wolbachia specific 16S rRNA PCR assay to investigate the presence of Wolbachia in six different laboratory stocks as well as in natural populations of nine different Glossina species originating from 10 African countries. Wolbachia was prevalent in Glossina morsitans morsitans, G. morsitans centralis and G. austeni populations. It was also detected in G. brevipalpis, and, for the first time, in G. pallidipes and G. palpalis gambiensis. On the other hand, Wolbachia was not found in G. p. palpalis, G. fuscipes fuscipes and G. tachinoides. Wolbachia infections of different laboratory and natural populations of Glossina species were characterized using 16S rRNA, the wsp (Wolbachia Surface Protein) gene and MLST (Multi Locus Sequence Typing) gene markers. This analysis led to the detection of horizontal gene transfer events, in which Wobachia genes were inserted into the tsetse flies fly nuclear genome.


Wolbachia infections were detected in both laboratory and natural populations of several different Glossina species. The characterization of these Wolbachia strains promises to lead to a deeper insight in tsetse flies-Wolbachia interactions, which is essential for the development and use of Wolbachia-based biological control methods.