Inherited intracellular ecosystem: Symbiotic bacteria share bacteriocytes in whiteflies

Yuval Gottlieb*, Murad Ghanim, Gwenaelle Gueguen, Svetlana Kontsedalov, Fabrice Vavre, Frederic Fleury, Einat Zchori-Fein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

206 Scopus citations


Symbiotic relationships with bacteria are common within the Arthropoda, with interactions that substantially influence the biology of both partners. The symbionts' spatial distribution is essential for understanding key aspects of this relationship, such as bacterial transmission, phenotype, and dynamics. In this study, fluorescence in situ hybridization was used to localize five secondary symbionts from various populations and biotypes of the sweet potato whitefly Bemisia tabaci: Hamiltonella, Arsenophonus, Cardinium, Wolbachia, and Rickettsia. All five symbionts were found to be located with the primary symbiont Portiera inside the bacteriocytes - cells specifically modified to house bacteria - but within these cells, they occupied various niches. The intrabacteriocyte distribution pattern of Rickettsia differed from what has been described previously. Cardinium and Wolbachia were found in other host tissues as well. Because all symbionts share the same cell, bacteriocytes in B. tabaci represent a unique intracellular ecosystem. This phenomenon may be a result of the direct enclosure of the bacteriocyte in the egg during oogenesis, providing a useful mechanism for efficient vertical transmission by "hitching a ride" with Portiera. On the other hand, cohabitation in the same cell provides ample opportunities for interactions among symbionts that can either facilitate (cooperation) or limit (warfare) symbiotic existence.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2591-2599
Number of pages9
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Bemisia tabaci
  • Fluorescent in situ hybridization
  • Spatial distribution
  • Vertical transmission


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