Wolbachia megadiversity: 99% of these microorganismic manipulators unknown

We estimated Wolbachia diversity at about 100,000 (99,012 - 117,638) strains and the portion currently known of this diversity at less than 1% (0.02 - 0.52%), based on quantitative metaanalyses of the published literature from Web of Science and of 16S DNA sequences of arthropod-hosted Wolbachia from GenBank. In addition, we found the least arthropod samples from Australia, and only one study funded from Africa. Inequalities in sampling and funding among continents may introduce bias in Wolbachia study. To fill this gap, more field research is needed, in a globally better-coordinated way to correct for the current funding and sampling imbalances.

This article is relevant for the scientific community in that (i) there as yet has been no case study putting in numbers the phenomenon that a large fraction of microbial biodiversity has remained undiscovered, which likely applies to very many microbial taxa; (ii) it puts a finger on the sore point of an increasing schism between an economically rich and an economically poorer world, which also ramifies into science; (iii) climate warming furthers the spread of arthropods carrying diseases and the as yet unknown Wolbachia strains may represent missing links in vector control using Wolbachia (such as in the control of Dengue fever); (iv) data are accumulating that Wolbachia can be beneficial for their insect hosts, among which are many pest species, and knowing strain diversity is thus the first step for using this knowledge in pest control.

Readers will recognize the relevance of exploring the biodiversity of Wolbachia strains and take up again the challenge of characterizing new host systems by considering previously underexplored areas. We also hope for strongly increased collaborations of researchers from economically poorer but biodiversity richer with ones from economically richer but biodiversity poorer areas.




Detcharoen M, Arthofer W, Schlick-Steiner BC, Steiner FM. (2019) Wolbachia megadiversity: 99% of these microorganismic manipulators unknown. FEMS Microbiology Ecology 95: fiz151. https://doi.org/10.1093/femsec/fiz151


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