The Hologenomic Basis of Speciation: Gut Bacteria Cause Hybrid Lethality in the Genus Nasonia

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Science  09 Aug 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6146, pp. 667-669
DOI: 10.1126/science.1240659

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Microbes → Host Speciation?

No living organism is an individual—an individual's microbiota can outnumber the host's somatic cells. Working in parasitoid wasps, Brucker and Bordenstein (p. 667, published online 18 July) now suggest that the gut microbiota can play a crucial role in speciation and hybrid lethality. In a clade of parasitoid wasps, interspecies hybrids survived when reared on antibiotic-treated sterile food (thus eliminating gut microbiota), but experienced high mortality when reared on conventional diet or host material.


Although the gut microbiome influences numerous aspects of organismal fitness, its role in animal evolution and the origin of new species is largely unknown. Here we present evidence that beneficial bacterial communities in the guts of closely related species of the genus Nasonia form species-specific phylosymbiotic assemblages that cause lethality in interspecific hybrids. Bacterial constituents and abundance are irregular in hybrids relative to parental controls, and antibiotic curing of the gut bacteria significantly rescues hybrid survival. Moreover, feeding bacteria to germ-free hybrids reinstates lethality and recapitulates the expression of innate immune genes observed in conventionally reared hybrids. We conclude that in this animal complex, the gut microbiome and host genome represent a coadapted “hologenome” that breaks down during hybridization, promoting hybrid lethality and assisting speciation.

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