Intracellular reproductive manipulators, such as Candidatus Cardinium and Wolbachia are vertically transmitted to progeny but rarely show co-speciation with the host. In sap-feeding insects, plant tissues have been proposed as alternative horizontal routes of interspecific transmission, but experimental evidence is limited. Here we report results from experiments that show that Cardinium is horizontally transmitted between different phloem sap-feeding insect species through plants. Quantitative PCR and in situ hybridization experiments indicated that the leafhopper Scaphoideus titanus releases Cardinium from its salivary glands during feeding on both artificial media and grapevine leaves. Successional time-course feeding experiments with S. titanus initially fed sugar solutions or small areas of grapevine leaves followed by feeding by the phytoplasma vector Macrosteles quadripunctulatus or the grapevine feeder Empoasca vitis revealed that the symbionts were transmitted to both species. Explaining interspecific horizontal transmission through plants improves our understanding of how symbionts spread, their lifestyle and the symbiont-host intermixed evolutionary pattern.
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