Comparing obligate endosymbionts with their free-living relatives is a powerful approach to investigate the evolution of symbioses, and it has led to the identification of several genomic traits consistently associated with the establishment of symbiosis. ‘Candidatus Nebulobacter yamunensis’ is an obligate bacterial endosymbiont of the ciliate Euplotes that seemingly depends on its host for survival. A subsequently characterized bacterial strain with an identical 16S rRNA gene sequence, named
, can instead be maintained in pure culture. We analysed the genomes of ‘Candidatus Nebulobacter’ and
seeking to identify key differences between their functional traits and genomic structure that might shed light on a recent transition to obligate endosymbiosis. Surprisingly, we found almost no such differences: the two genomes share a high level of sequence identity, the same overall structure, and largely overlapping sets of genes. The similarities between the genomes of the two strains are at odds with their different ecological niches, confirmed here with a parallel growth experiment. Although other pairs of closely related symbiotic/free-living bacteria have been compared in the past, ‘Candidatus Nebulobacter’ and
represent an extreme example proving that a small number of (unknown) factors might play a pivotal role in the earliest stages of obligate endosymbiosis establishment.
Among endosymbiotic bacterial lineages, few are as intensely studied as
, which include the causative agents of spotted fever, typhus, and anaplasmosis. However, an important subgroup called “
Midichloriaceae” receives little attention despite accounting for a third of the diversity of
and harboring a wide range of bacteria with unique features, like the ability to infect mitochondria.
Endosymbioses between bacteria and eukaryotes are enormously important in ecology and evolution, and as such are intensely studied. Despite this, the range of investigated hosts is narrow in the context of the whole eukaryotic tree of life: most of the information pertains to animal hosts, while most of the diversity is found in unicellular protists. A prominent case study is the ciliate
, which has repeatedly taken up the bacterium
from the environment, triggering its transformation into obligate endosymbiont. This multiple origin makes the relationship an excellent model to understand recent symbioses, but
may host bacteria other than
, and a more detailed knowledge of these additional interactions is needed in order to correctly interpret the system. Here, we present the first systematic survey of
endosymbionts, adopting a classical as well as a metagenomic approach, and review the state of knowledge. The emerging picture is indeed quite complex, with some
harbouring rich, stable prokaryotic communities not unlike those of multicellular animals. We provide insights into the distribution, evolution and diversity of these symbionts (including the establishment of six novel bacterial taxa), and outline differences and similarities with the most well-understood group of eukaryotic hosts: insects.
Midichloria mitochondrii” is an intramitochondrial bacterium of the order
associated with the sheep tick
. Bacteria phylogenetically related to “
. Midichloria mitochondrii” (midichloria and like organisms [MALOs]) have been shown to be associated with a wide range of hosts, from amoebae to a variety of animals, including humans. Despite numerous studies focused on specific members of the MALO group, no comprehensive phylogenetic and statistical analyses have so far been performed on the group as a whole. Here, we present a multidisciplinary investigation based on 16S rRNA gene sequences using both phylogenetic and statistical methods, thereby analyzing MALOs in the overall framework of the
. This study revealed that (i) MALOs form a monophyletic group; (ii) the MALO group is structured into distinct subgroups, verifying current genera as significant evolutionary units and identifying several subclades that could represent novel genera; (iii) the MALO group ranks at the level of described
families, leading to the proposal of the novel family “
Midichloriaceae.” In addition, based on the phylogenetic trees generated, we present an evolutionary scenario to interpret the distribution and life history transitions of these microorganisms associated with highly divergent eukaryotic hosts: we suggest that aquatic/environmental protista have acted as evolutionary reservoirs for members of this novel family, from which one or more lineages with the capacity of infecting metazoa have evolved.
ABSTRACTThe orderRickettsiales(Alphaproteobacteria) is a well-known group containing obligate endocellular prokaryotes. The order encompasses three families (Rickettsiaceae,Anaplasmataceae, andHolosporaceae) and a fourth, family-level cluster, which includes only one candidate species, “CandidatusMidichloria mitochondrii,” as well as several unnamed bacterial symbionts. The broad host range exhibited by the members of the “CandidatusMidichloria” clade suggests their eventual relevance for a better understanding of the evolution of symbiosis and host specificity ofRickettsiales. In this paper, two new bacteria belonging to the “CandidatusMidichloria” clade, hosted by two different strains of the ciliate protistEuplotes harpa, are described on the basis of ultrastructural observations, comparative 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis, and an estimation of the percentage of infection. Ultrastructure of these bacteria shows some unusual features: one has an electron-dense cytoplasm, and the other one lacks a symbiosomal membrane. The latter was up to now considered an exclusive feature of bacteria belonging to the familyRickettsiaceae. 16S rRNA gene phylogenetic analysis unambiguously places the new bacteria in the “CandidatusMidichloria” clade, although their phylogenetic relationships with other members of the clade are not clearly resolved. This is the first report of a ciliate-borne bacterium belonging to the “CandidatusMidichloria” clade. On the basis of the data obtained, the two bacteria are proposed as two new candidate genera and species, “CandidatusAnadelfobacter veles” and “CandidatusCyrtobacter comes.”