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Concept: Endosymbiont


The “wooden-steps” hypothesis [Distel DL, et al. (2000) Nature 403:725-726] proposed that large chemosynthetic mussels found at deep-sea hydrothermal vents descend from much smaller species associated with sunken wood and other organic deposits, and that the endosymbionts of these progenitors made use of hydrogen sulfide from biogenic sources (e.g., decaying wood) rather than from vent fluids. Here, we show that wood has served not only as a stepping stone between habitats but also as a bridge between heterotrophic and chemoautotrophic symbiosis for the giant mud-boring bivalve Kuphus polythalamia This rare and enigmatic species, which achieves the greatest length of any extant bivalve, is the only described member of the wood-boring bivalve family Teredinidae (shipworms) that burrows in marine sediments rather than wood. We show that K. polythalamia harbors sulfur-oxidizing chemoautotrophic (thioautotrophic) bacteria instead of the cellulolytic symbionts that allow other shipworm species to consume wood as food. The characteristics of its symbionts, its phylogenetic position within Teredinidae, the reduction of its digestive system by comparison with other family members, and the loss of morphological features associated with wood digestion indicate that K. polythalamia is a chemoautotrophic bivalve descended from wood-feeding (xylotrophic) ancestors. This is an example in which a chemoautotrophic endosymbiosis arose by displacement of an ancestral heterotrophic symbiosis and a report of pure culture of a thioautotrophic endosymbiont.

Concepts: Shipworm, Algae, Evolution, Symbiosis, Endosymbiont, Bacteria, Bivalvia, Hydrothermal vent


Despite extensive study, little is known about the origins of the mutualistic bacterial endosymbionts that inhabit approximately 10% of the world’s insects. In this study, we characterized a novel opportunistic human pathogen, designated “strain HS,” and found that it is a close relative of the insect endosymbiont Sodalis glossinidius. Our results indicate that ancestral relatives of strain HS have served as progenitors for the independent descent of Sodalis-allied endosymbionts found in several insect hosts. Comparative analyses indicate that the gene inventories of the insect endosymbionts were independently derived from a common ancestral template through a combination of irreversible degenerative changes. Our results provide compelling support for the notion that mutualists evolve from pathogenic progenitors. They also elucidate the role of degenerative evolutionary processes in shaping the gene inventories of symbiotic bacteria at a very early stage in these mutualistic associations.

Concepts: Archaea, Parasitism, Mutualism, Endosymbiont, Microbiology, Evolution, Bacteria, Symbiosis


Calcium carbonate skeletons of scleractinian corals amplify light availability to their algal symbionts by diffuse scattering, optimizing photosynthetic energy acquisition. However, the mechanism of scattering and its role in coral evolution and dissolution of algal symbioses during “bleaching” events are largely unknown. Here we show that differences in skeletal fractal architecture at nano/micro-lengthscales within 96 coral taxa result in an 8-fold variation in light-scattering and considerably alter the algal light environment. We identified a continuum of properties that fall between two extremes: (1) corals with low skeletal fractality that are efficient at transporting and redistributing light throughout the colony with low scatter but are at higher risk of bleaching and (2) corals with high skeletal fractality that are inefficient at transporting and redistributing light with high scatter and are at lower risk of bleaching. While levels of excess light derived from the coral skeleton is similar in both groups, the low-scatter corals have a higher rate of light-amplification increase when symbiont concentration is reduced during bleaching, thus creating a positive feedback-loop between symbiont concentration and light-amplification that exposes the remaining symbionts to increasingly higher light intensities. By placing our findings in an evolutionary framework, in conjunction with a novel empirical index of coral bleaching susceptibility, we find significant correlations between bleaching susceptibility and light-scattering despite rich homoplasy in both characters; suggesting that the cost of enhancing light-amplification to the algae is revealed in decreased resilience of the partnership to stress.

Concepts: Scleractinia, Evolution, Coral reef, Photosynthesis, Endosymbiont, Symbiosis, Algae, Coral


New specimens of the kleptoplastidal dinoflagellate Gymnodinium eucyaneum Hu were collected in China. We investigated the systematics of the dinoflagellate and the origin of its endosymbiont based on light morphology and phylogenetic analyses using multiple DNA sequences. Cells were dorsoventrally flattened with a sharply acute hypocone and a hemispherical epicone. The confusion between G. eucyaneum and G. acidotum Nygaard still needs to be resolved. We found that the hypocone was conspicuously larger than the epicone in most G. eucyaneum cells, which differed from G. acidotum, but there were a few cells whose hypocone and epicone were of nearly the same size. In addition, there was only one site difference in the partial nuclear LSU rDNA sequences of a sample from Japan given the name G. acidotum and G. eucyaneum in the present study, which suggest that G. eucyaneum may be a synonym of G. acidotum. Spectroscopic analyses and phylogenetic analyses based on nucleomorph SSU rDNA sequences and chloroplast 23 s rDNA sequences suggested that the endosymbiont of G. eucyaneum was derived from Chroomonas (Cryptophyta), and that it was most closely related to C. coerulea Skuja. Moreover, the newly reported kleptoplastidal dinoflagellates G. myriopyrenoides and G. eucyaneum in our study were very similar, and the taxonomy of kleptoplastidal dinoflagellates was discussed.

Concepts: Organelle, Eukaryote, Endosymbiont, DNA, Cryptomonad, Chloroplast, Algae, Dinoflagellate


Coral reefs are in rapid decline on a global scale due to human activities and a changing climate. Shallow water reefs depend on the obligatory symbiosis between the habitat forming coral host and its algal symbiont from the genus Symbiodinium (zooxanthellae). This association is highly sensitive to thermal perturbations and temperatures as little as 1°C above the average summer maxima can cause the breakdown of this symbiosis, termed coral bleaching. Predicting the capacity of corals to survive the expected increase in seawater temperatures depends strongly on our understanding of the thermal tolerance of the symbiotic algae. Here we use molecular phylogenetic analysis of four genetic markers to describe Symbiodinium thermophilum, sp. nov. from the Persian/Arabian Gulf, a thermally tolerant coral symbiont. Phylogenetic inference using the non-coding region of the chloroplast psbA gene resolves S. thermophilum as a monophyletic lineage with large genetic distances from any other ITS2 C3 type found outside the Gulf. Through the characterisation of Symbiodinium associations of 6 species (5 genera) of Gulf corals, we demonstrate that S. thermophilum is the prevalent symbiont all year round in the world’s hottest sea, the southern Persian/Arabian Gulf.

Concepts: Plant, Coral bleaching, Species, Symbiosis, Coral reef, Endosymbiont, Algae, Coral


Braarudosphaera bigelowii (Prymnesiophyceae) is a coastal coccolithophore with a long fossil record, extending back to the late Cretaceous (ca. 100 Ma). A recent study revealed close phylogenetic relationships between B. bigelowii, Chrysochromulina parkeae (Prymnesiophyceae), and a prymnesiophyte that forms a symbiotic association with the nitrogen-fixing cyanobacterium UCYN-A. In order to further examine these relationships, we conducted transmission electron microscopic and molecular phylogenetic studies of B. bigelowii. TEM studies showed that, in addition to organelles, such as the nucleus, chloroplasts and mitochondria, B. bigelowii contains one or two spheroid bodies with internal lamellae. In the 18S rDNA tree of the Prymnesiophyceae, C. parkeae fell within the B. bigelowii clade, and was close to B. bigelowii Genotype III (99.89% similarity). Plastid 16S rDNA sequences obtained from B. bigelowii were close to the unidentified sequences from the oligotrophic SE Pacific Ocean (e.g. HM133411) (99.86% similarity). Bacterial16S rDNA sequences obtained from B. bigelowii were identical to the UCYN-A sequence AY621693 from Arabian Sea, and fell in the UCYN-A clade. From these results, we suggest that; 1) C. parkeae is the alternate life cycle stage of B. bigelowii sensu stricto or that of a sibling species of B. bigelowii, and 2) the spheroid body of B. bigelowii originated from endosymbiosis of the nitrogen-fixing cyanobacterium UCYN-A.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Endosymbiont, DNA, Cyanobacteria, Organelle, Endosymbiotic theory, Phylogenetics, Evolution


We evaluated the impact of fungal endophyte symbiosis on the growth, ecophysiological and reproductive success of wheat exposed to heat and drought.

Concepts: Wheat, Endophytes, Fungi, Symbiosis, Endosymbiont, Fungus, Plant, Endophyte


Bat flies are a diverse clade of obligate ectoparasites on bats. Like most blood-feeding insects they harbor endosymbiotic prokaryotes, but the origins and nature of these symbioses are still poorly understood. To expand the knowledge of bacterial associates in bat flies, the diversity and evolution of the dominant endosymbionts in six of eight nominal subfamilies of bat flies (Streblidae, Nycteribiidae) were studied. Furthermore, the localization of endosymbionts and their transmission across developmental stages within the family Streblidae were explored. Results show diverse microbial associates in bat flies, with at least four ancestral invasions of distantly related microbial lineages throughout bat fly evolution. Phylogenetic relationships support the presence of at least two novel symbiont lineages (here: Clades B and D), and extend the geographic and taxonomic range of a previously documented lineage (Candidatus Aschnera chinzeii; here: Clade A). Although these lineages show reciprocally monophyletic clusters with several bat fly host clades, their phylogenetic relationships generally do not reflect current bat fly taxonomy or phylogeny. However, within some endosymbiont clades, congruent patterns of symbiont-host divergence are apparent. Other sequences identified in this study fall into the widely distributed, highly invasive, insect-associated Arsenophonus lineage, and may be the result of symbiont replacements and/or transient infections (here: Clade C). Vertical transmission of endosymbionts of clades B and D is supported by fluorescent signal (FISH) and microbial DNA detection across developmental stages. Fluorescent bacterial signal is consistently localized within structures resembling bacteriomes, although their anatomical position differs by host fly clade. In summary, results suggest an obligate host-endosymbiont relationship for three of the four known symbiont clades associated with bat flies (Clades A, B, and D).

Concepts: Endosymbiont, Nycteribiidae, Calyptratae, Bacteria, Phylogenetics, Symbiosis, Hippoboscoidea, Evolution


Despite half a century of research, the biology of dinoflagellates remains enigmatic: they defy many functional and genetic traits attributed to typical eukaryotic cells. Genomic approaches to study dinoflagellates are often stymied due to their large, multi-gigabase genomes. Members of the genus Symbiodinium are photosynthetic endosymbionts of stony corals that provide the foundation of coral reef ecosystems. Their smaller genome sizes provide an opportunity to interrogate evolution and functionality of dinoflagellate genomes and endosymbiosis. We sequenced the genome of the ancestral Symbiodinium microadriaticum and compared it to the genomes of the more derived Symbiodinium minutum and Symbiodinium kawagutii and eukaryote model systems as well as transcriptomes from other dinoflagellates. Comparative analyses of genome and transcriptome protein sets show that all dinoflagellates, not only Symbiodinium, possess significantly more transmembrane transporters involved in the exchange of amino acids, lipids, and glycerol than other eukaryotes. Importantly, we find that only Symbiodinium harbor an extensive transporter repertoire associated with the provisioning of carbon and nitrogen. Analyses of these transporters show species-specific expansions, which provides a genomic basis to explain differential compatibilities to an array of hosts and environments, and highlights the putative importance of gene duplications as an evolutionary mechanism in dinoflagellates and Symbiodinium.

Concepts: Endosymbiont, Genetics, Evolution, Organism, DNA, Gene, Bacteria, Algae


In the natural products research, a valuable approach is the prospection of uncommon sources and unexplored habitat. Special attention has been given to endophytic fungi because of their ability to produce new and interesting secondary metabolites, which have several biological applications. The endophytes establish exclusive symbiotic relationships with plants and the metabolic interactions may support the synthesis of some similar valuables compounds. Among secondary metabolites, phenol-derived structures are responsible for several bioactivities such as antioxidant, cytotoxic, antimicrobial, among others. Phenolic compounds might be biosynthesized from the shikimate pathway. Although shikimic acid is a common precursor in plants, it is described as rare in microorganisms. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first review about phenolic compounds produced by endophytic fungi and a comparison has been made with those produced by the plant host. This review covers 124 phenolic secondary metabolites produced by endophytic fungi. Considering the data analyzed by us, only seven of such compounds were isolated from fungi and from their hosts. These observations claim for more attention to phenolic compounds produced by endophytic fungi with a view to understand the real importance of these compounds to endophytes survival.

Concepts: Microbiology, Endophyte, Endosymbiont, Bacteria, Metabolism, Fungus, Symbiosis, Plant