Transovarial transmission of rickettsia spp. and organ-specific infection of the whitefly Bemisia tabaci

Marina Brumin, Maggie Levy, Murad Ghanim*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


The whitefly Bemisia tabaci is a cosmopolitan insect pest that harbors Portiera aleyrodidarum, the primary obligatory symbiotic bacterium, and several facultative secondary symbionts. Secondary symbionts in B. tabaci are generally associated with the bacteriome, ensuring their vertical transmission; however, Rickettsia is an exception and occupies most of the body cavity, except the bacteriome. The mode of Rickettsia transfer between generations and its subcellular localization in insect organs have not been investigated. Using electron and fluorescence microscopy, we show that Rickettsia infects the digestive, salivary, and reproductive organs of the insect; however, it was not observed in the bacteriome. Rickettsia invades the oocytes during early developmental stages and resides in follicular cells and cytoplasm; it is mostly excluded when the egg matures; however, some bacterial cells remain in the egg, ensuring their transfer to subsequent generations. Rickettsia was localized to testicles and the spermatheca, suggesting a horizontal transfer between males and females during mating. The bacterium was further observed at large amounts in midgut cells, concentrating in vacuole-like structures, and was located in the hemolymph, specifically at exceptionally large amounts around bacteriocytes and in fat bodies. Organs further infected by Rickettsia included the primary salivary glands and stylets, sites of possible secretion of the bacterium outside the whitefly body. The close association between Rickettsia and the B. tabaci digestive system might be important for digestive purposes. The vertical transmission of Rickettsia to subsequent generations occurs via the oocyte and not, like other secondary symbionts, the bacteriome.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)5565-5574
Number of pages10
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 2012


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