The symbiosis between the olive fruit fly, Bactrocera oleae, and Candidatus Erwinia dacicola has been demonstrated as essential for the fly’s larval development and adult physiology. The mass rearing of the olive fruit fly has been hindered by several issues, including problems which could be related to the lack of the symbiont, presumably due to preservatives and antibiotics currently used during rearing under laboratory conditions. To better understand the mechanisms underlying symbiont removal or loss during the rearing of lab colonies of the olive fruit fly, we performed experiments that focused on bacterial transfer from wild female flies to their eggs. In this research, eggs laid by wild females were treated with propionic acid solution, which is often used as an antifungal agent, a mixture of sodium hypochlorite and Triton X, or water (as a control). The presence of the bacterial symbiont on eggs was evaluated by real-time PCR and scanning electron microscopy.
DGGE analysis showed a clear band with the same migration behavior present in all DGGE profiles but with a decreasing intensity. Molecular analyses performed by real-time PCR showed a significant reduction in Ca. E. dacicola abundance in eggs treated with propionic acid solution or a mixture of sodium hypochlorite and Triton X compared to those treated with water. In addition, the removal of bacteria from the surfaces of treated eggs was highlighted by scanning electron microscopy.
The results clearly indicate how the first phases of the colony-establishment process are important in maintaining the symbiont load in laboratory populations and suggest that the use of products with antimicrobial activity should be avoided. The results also suggest that alternative rearing procedures for the olive fruit fly should be investigated.
The olive fly, Bactrocera oleae, is the most important insect pest in olive production, causing economic damage to olive crops worldwide. In addition to extensive research on B. oleae control methods, scientists have devoted much effort in the last century to understanding olive fly endosymbiosis with a bacterium eventually identified as Candidatus Erwinia dacicola. This bacterium plays a relevant role in olive fly fitness. It is vertically transmitted, and it benefits both larvae and adults in wild populations; however, the endosymbiont is not present in lab colonies, probably due to the antibiotics and preservatives required for the preparation of artificial diets. Endosymbiont transfer from wild B. oleae populations to laboratory-reared ones allows olive fly mass-rearing, thus producing more competitive flies for future Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) applications.
We tested the hypothesis that Ca. E. dacicola might be transmitted from wild, naturally symbiotic adults to laboratory-reared flies. Several trials have been performed with different contamination sources of Ca. E. dacicola, such as ripe olives and gelled water contaminated by wild flies, wax domes containing eggs laid by wild females, cages dirtied by faeces dropped by wild flies and matings between lab and wild adults. PCR-DGGE, performed with the primer set 63F-GC/518R, demonstrated that the transfer of the endosymbiont from wild flies to lab-reared ones occurred only in the case of cohabitation.
Cohabitation of symbiotic wild flies and non-symbiotic lab flies allows the transfer of Ca. E. dacicola through adults. Moreover, PCR-DGGE performed with the primer set 63F-GC/518R was shown to be a consistent method for screening Ca. E. dacicola, also showing the potential to distinguish between the two haplotypes (htA and htB). This study represents the first successful attempt at horizontal transfer of Ca. E. dacicola and the first step in acquiring a better understanding of the endosymbiont physiology and its relationship with the olive fly. Our research also represents a starting point for the development of a laboratory symbiotic olive fly colony, improving perspectives for future applications of the Sterile Insect Technique.