Facultative symbionts in aphids and the horizontal transfer of ecologically important traits

Kerry M. Oliver, Patrick H. Degnan, Gaelen R. Burke, Nancy A. Moran

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Aphids engage in symbiotic associations with a diverse assemblage of heritable bacteria. In addition to their obligate nutrient-provisioning symbiont, Buchnera aphidicola, aphids may also carry one or more facultative symbionts. Unlike obligate symbionts, facultative symbionts are not generally required for survival or reproduction and can invade novel hosts, based on both phylogenetic analyses and transfection experiments. Facultative symbionts are mutualistic in the context of various ecological interactions. Experiments on pea aphids (Acyrthosiphon pisum) have demonstrated that facultative symbionts protect against entomopathogenic fungi and parasitoid wasps, ameliorate the detrimental effects of heat, and Influence host plant suitability. The protective symbiont, Hamiltonella defensa, has a dynamic genome, exhibiting evidence of recombination, phage-mediated gene uptake, and horizontal gene transfer and containing virulence and toxin-encoding genes. Although transmitted maternally with high fidelity, facultative symbionts occasionally move horizontally within and between species, resulting in the instantaneous acquisition of ecologically important traits, such as parasitoid defense.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-266
Number of pages20
JournalAnnual Review of Entomology
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010


  • Endosymbiont
  • Hamiltonella defensa
  • Mutualism
  • Regiella insecticola
  • Rickettsia
  • Serratia symbiotica

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


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