BackgroundInsects frequently live in close relationship with symbiotic bacteria that carry out beneficial functions for their host, like protection against parasites and viruses. However, in some cases, the mutualistic nature of such associations is put into question because of detrimental phenotypes caused by the symbiont. One example is the association between the vertically transmitted facultative endosymbiont Spiroplasma poulsonii and its natural host Drosophila melanogaster. Whereas S. poulsonii protects its host against parasitoid wasps and nematodes by the action of toxins from the family of Ribosome Inactivating Proteins (RIPs), the presence of S. poulsonii has been reported to reduce host's life span and to kill male embryos by a toxin called Spaid. In this work, we investigate the harmful effects of Spiroplasma RIPs on Drosophila in the absence of parasite infection.ResultsWe show that only two Spiroplasma RIPs (SpRIP1 and SpRIP2) among the five RIP genes encoded in the S. poulsonii genome are significantly expressed during the whole Drosophila life cycle. Heterologous expression of SpRIP1 and 2 in uninfected flies confirms their toxicity, as indicated by a reduction of Drosophila lifespan and hemocyte number. We also show that RIPs can cause the death of some embryos, including females.ConclusionOur results indicate that RIPs released by S. poulsonii contribute to the reduction of host lifespan and embryo mortality. This suggests that SpRIPs may impact the insect-symbiont homeostasis beyond their protective function against parasites.