Spring 2016 Session of the Conference for Student Research
Wolbachia is a widely-distributed, obligate, intracellular parasite belonging to the alpha-proteobacteria group, sharing features with Rickettsiae-like microorganisms. It is a bacterial endosymbiont whose presence can influence the sex ratio of many arthropod and nematode offspring by a number of different mechanisms. Its impacts on bio-control and speciation have made the study of Wolbachia invaluable. In order to gain insight into the potential impact of this host-parasite interaction on changes in select populations in Kentucky, we set out to characterize a sampling of Wolbachia strains from insects collected from specific locations in Berea, Lexington, and Liberty, Kentucky. Insects, collected from Malaise traps, were separated into morphospecies and, in an number of cases, into putative families, using standard morphological keys. Although the focus was on Ichneumonid wasps (because of their larger presentation in the Berea and Lexington collections), several other species were included as well. In total, over ninety-seven single isolates, representing twenty-four morphospecies, were analyzed for the presence of Wolbachia by PCR with 16S rRNA primers specific for Wolbachia. We found that 36% and 40% of the Ichneumonid wasps from the Berea and Lexington collections, respectively, contain Wolbachia. In addition, we noted a major difference in the frequency of infection of two different Ichneumonid morphospecies. The frequencies of infection and type are compared to collections and strains from other regions of the country; and, the potential impacts of geographical location, seasonal variation, and infection with known Wolbachia bacteriophage on shaping strain diversity discussed.