is a giant, colonial marine ciliate from sulfide-rich habitats obligatorily covered with chemoautotrophic, sulfide-oxidizing bacteria which appear as coccoid rods and rods with a series of intermediate shapes. Comparative 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis and fluorescence in situ hybridization showed that the ectosymbiont of
belongs to only one pleomorphic phylotype. The
ectosymbiont is only moderately related to previously identified groups of thiotrophic symbionts within the
, and shows highest 16S rRNA sequence similarity with the free-living sulfur-oxidizing bacterial strain ODIII6 from shallow-water hydrothermal vents of the Mediterranean Sea (94.5%) and an endosymbiont from a deep-sea hydrothermal vent gastropod of the Indian Ocean Ridge (93.1%). A replacement of this specific ectosymbiont by a variety of other bacteria was observed only for senescent basal parts of the host colonies. The taxonomic status “
Thiobios zoothamnicoli” is proposed for the ectosymbiont of
based on its ultrastructure, its 16S rRNA gene, the intergenic spacer region, and its partial 23S rRNA gene sequence.