The close association between the olive flyBactrocera oleae(Rossi) (Diptera: Tephritidae) and bacteria has been known for more than a century. Recently, the presence of a host-specific, hereditary, unculturable symbiotic bacterium, designated ‘CandidatusErwinia dacicola’, has been described inside the cephalic organ of the fly, called the oesophageal bulb. In the present study, the 16S rRNA gene sequence variability of ‘Ca.E. dacicola’ was examined within and between 26 Italian olive fly populations sampled across areas where olive trees occur in the wild and areas where cultivated olive trees have been introduced through history. The bacterial contents of the oesophageal bulbs of 314 olive flies were analysed and a minimum of 781 bp of the 16S rRNA gene was sequenced. The corresponding host fly genotype was assessed by sequencing a 776 bp portion of the mitochondrial genome. Two ‘Ca. E. dacicola’ haplotypes were found (htA and htB), one being slightly more prevalent than the other (57 %). The two haplotypes did not co-exist in the same individuals, as confirmed by cloning. Interestingly, the olive fly populations of the two main Italian islands, Sicily and Sardinia, appeared to be represented exclusively by the htB and htA haplotypes, respectively, while peninsular populations showed both bacterial haplotypes in different proportions. No significant correlation emerged between the two symbiont haplotypes and the 16 host fly haplotypes observed, suggesting evidence for a mixed model of vertical and horizontal transmission of the symbiont during the fly life cycle.
The taxonomic identity of the hereditary prokaryotic symbiont of the olive fly Bactrocera oleae (Diptera: Tephritidae) was investigated. In order to avoid superficial microbial contaminants and loosely associated saprophytic biota, flies were surface-sterilized at the larval stage and reared under aseptic conditions until adult emergence. B. oleae flies originating from different geographical locations and collected at different times of the year were tested. Bacterial isolation was undertaken from the cephalic oesophageal bulb, which is known to be a specific site of accumulation for the hosted microsymbionts in the adult insect. Despite evidence of multiplication cycles taking place within the insect, attempts at cultivation of the isolated bacteria ex situ were not productive at any stage, leading to the choice of unculturable status definition. PCR amplification and nucleotide sequencing of the entire 16S rRNA gene consistently yielded a single sequence that displayed marked similarity with enterobacterial lineages, with closest matches (97 %) to Erwinia persicina and Erwinia rhapontici. The novel taxon differs from common intestinal bacterial species of fruit flies and from instances of culturable bacteria previously described in B. oleae raised without sterility precautions, which we also observed as minority occupants or occasional contaminants. The symbiont's identity is also distinct from Pseudomonas savastanoi. In all observations, the numerically dominant inhabitant of the olive fly oesophageal organ was the same unculturable organism, whose presence at later stages was also regularly observed in the midgut. A novel species is proposed, by virtue of its unique properties, under the designation ‘Candidatus Erwinia dacicola’.