The sequencing project was done in collaboration with Scott O'Neill, an Australian biologist from the University of Queensland. He says that scientific interest in Wolbachia has intensified in recent years because the microbes infect so many arthropods and also because they influence many fundamental biological processes in their hosts.
"Wolbachia represent an excellent model for understanding fundamental interactions that occur between organisms," says O'Neill. In addition to the "intriguing evolutionary implications" of Wolbachia infections, he says research into such infections "has a lot of potential to reduce the impact of insect-transmitted diseases."
Biologists are interested in Wolbachia for many reasons, most notably the microbe's tendency to cause negative effects only to males of their host species. Such adverse impacts include:
- Parthenogenesis (infected females reproducing in the absence of mating to produce infected female offspring)
- Feminization (infected males being converted into females)
- Male-killing (infected male embryos being selectively killed), and
- Cytoplasmic incompatibility (the limiting of reproduction of uninfected females that mate with infected males).
The male-targeted effects are thought to have arisen because Wolbachia are transmitted specifically from females to their offspring and thus can increase their transmission by eliminating the non-transmitting males.
Scientists say the Wolbachia genome will be useful for researchers seeking to develop new approaches to help treat victims of lymphatic filariasis, elephantiasis, and other human diseases caused by small worms (such as Brugia malayi) that cannot survive/reproduce without Wolbachia inside their cells.