The human louse (Pediculus humanus) is a haematophagous ectoparasite that is intimately related to its host. It has been of great public health concern throughout human history. This louse has been classified into six divergent mitochondrial clades (A, D, B, F, C and E). As with all haematophagous lice, P. humanus directly depends on the presence of a bacterial symbiont, known as “Candidatus Riesia pediculicola”, to complement their unbalanced diet. In this study, we evaluated the codivergence of human lice around the world and their endosymbiotic bacteria. Using molecular approaches, we targeted lice mitochondrial genes from the six diverged clades and Candidatus Riesia pediculicola housekeeping genes.
The mitochondrial cytochrome b gene (cytb) of lice was selected for molecular analysis, with the aim to identify louse clade. In parallel, we developed four PCR primer pairs targeting three housekeeping genes of Candidatus Riesia pediculicola: ftsZ, groEL and two regions of the rpoB gene (rpoB-1 and rpoB-2).
The endosymbiont phylogeny perfectly mirrored the host insect phylogeny using the ftsZ and rpoB-2 genes, in addition to showing a significant co-phylogenetic congruence, suggesting a strict vertical transmission and a host–symbiont co-speciation following the evolutionary course of the human louse.
Our results unequivocally indicate that louse endosymbionts have experienced a similar co-evolutionary history and that the human louse clade can be determined by their endosymbiotic bacteria.