Wolbachia,A Heritable Pandemic

Created by Sarah Bordenstein, Marine Biological Laboratory


Wolbachia is a genus of inherited alpha-proteobacteria that form intracellular infections in many invertebrate hosts. One of the most common bacterial endosymbionts on the planet, it was first identified in 1924 and gained widespread attention of researchers in 1971 when its role in cytoplasmic incompatibility was revealed. Cytoplasmic incompatibility refers to a sperm-egg incompatibility in which Wolbachia modify host sperm, ultimately leading to embryonic mortality unless rescued by the presence of the same Wolbachia infection in the egg. It is typically expressed in crosses between an infected male and uninfected female, thereby reducing the fitness of uninfected females. Wolbachia, the ultimate reproductive parasite, has also been shown to induce parthenogenesis, selectively kill males, influence sperm competition and stimulate host feminization. While Wolbachia is predominantly transmitted through females to developing eggs, it can also undergo horizontal gene transfer in host species. 

This collection of resources offers an overview of Wolbachia biology as well as highlights a few key topics in the field: 

  • Wolbachia Evolution
  • Reproductive Strategies
  • Symbiosis & Host-Microbe Interactions
  • Human Disease
  • Speciation in Insects
  • Vector Control
  • Viruses/Phage: The Parasites Within

Understanding these topics will provide clues to both our past and future. Wolbachia research allows scientists to gain insight into evolutionary processes, from the origin of the eukaryotic cell to current trends in insect speciation, as well as multi-layered symbiosis, specifically that between hosts, symbionts and bacteriophage. It also offers promise in the fields of pest control and global disease management. Opportunities are available for students and teachers to join in the international effort to unravel the secrets of this heritable pandemic. 

Wolbachia Collection

Learn more about Wolbachia with this collection of resources including informational websites, news releases, primary literature, and educational modules. 


Student Activity

The Microbes Within is a WebQuest exploring the effects of endosymbiosis on reproduction, evolution and human health. 


Additional Resources

For additional resources about Wolbachia, search the Microbial Life collection. 

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