Facultative endosymbionts can benefit insect hosts in a variety of ways, including context-dependent roles, such as providing defense against pathogens. The role of some symbionts in defense may be overlooked, however, when pathogen infection is transient, sporadic, or asymptomatic. The facultative endosymbiont Rickettsia increases the fitness of the sweet potato whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) in some populations through mechanisms that are not yet understood. In this study, we investigated the role of Rickettsia in mediating the interaction between the sweet potato whitefly and Pseudomonas syringae, a common environmental bacterium, some strains of which are pathogenic to aphids. Our results show that P. syringae multiplies within whiteflies, leading to host death, and that whiteflies infected with Rickettsia show a decreased rate of death due to P. syringae. Experiments using plants coated with P. syringae confirmed that whiteflies can acquire the bacteria at a low rate while feeding, leading to increased mortality, particularly when the whiteflies are not infected with Rickettsia. These results suggest that P. syringae may affect whitefly populations in nature and that Rickettsia can ameliorate this effect. This study highlights the possible importance of interactions among opportunistic environmental pathogens and endosymbionts of insects.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Food Science
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology