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Revisiting Wolbachia Supergroup Typing Based on WSP: Spurious Lineages and Discordance with MLST

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The obligate intracellular bacteria Wolbachia are taxonomically subdivided into eight supergroups (named A–H). Supergroup typing of strains has been mostly based on phylogenetic inference of the Wolbachia surface protein (wsp), a gene that recently has been shown to experience high rates of recombination. This brings into question its suitability not only for microtaxonomy, but also for supergroup classification of the genus. A Multilocus Sequence Typing (MLST) scheme for Wolbachia has recently been developed that types strains based on five conserved genes, thus providing a rigorous supergroup annotation of strains. Here we report striking discrepancies in supergroup designation between MLST and wsp inferences, and propose a revision of current methods for Wolbachia supergroup typing. Transfer of whole wsp gene sequences between supergroups A and B has occurred. Furthermore, as a result of intragenic recombination, wsp phylogeny creates spurious basal lineages that are not supported by MLST. For example, the proposed supergroup G, based upon wsp alone, likely represents only a wsp recombinant clade. Removal of supergroup G is advised until and unless the existence of this lineage is substantiated by other sequence information (e.g., MLST). We recommend a full characterization MLST for a correct strain typing, while, based on the current data set, use of a single MLST gene can be effective for supergroup designation of A and B strains. Finally, we note that the sharing of wsp sequences between A and B strains indicates a strong genetic cohesiveness of Wolbachia strains, supporting designation of these bacteria within the same species, W. pipientis.

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We thank Nadia Ayoub for providing Agelenopsis specimens. Funds from the U.S. National Science Foundation grant EF-0328363 supported J.W.

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Correspondence to Laura Baldo.

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Baldo, L., Werren, J.H. Revisiting Wolbachia Supergroup Typing Based on WSP: Spurious Lineages and Discordance with MLST. Curr Microbiol 55, 81–87 (2007).

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