Host specificity in the Richelia–diatom symbiosis revealed by hetR gene sequence analysis


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The filamentous heterocyst-forming cyanobacterium Richelia intracellularis forms associations with diatoms and is very abundant in tropical and subtropical seas. The genus Richelia contains only one species, R. intracellularis Schmidt, although it forms associations with several diatom genera and has considerable variation in size and morphology. The genetic diversity, and possible host specificity, within the genus Richelia is unknown. Using primers against hetR, a gene unique for filamentous cyanobacteria, specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) products were obtained from natural populations of R. intracellularis filaments associated with three diatom genera. Phylogenetic analyses of these sequences showed that they were all in the same clade. This clade contained only the R. intracellularis sequences. The genetic affiliation of hetR sequences of R. intracellularis to those of other heterocystous cyanobacteria strongly suggests that it was not closely related to endosymbiotic Nostoc spp. hetR sequences. Sequences from R. intracellularis–Hemiaulus membranaceus sampled in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans were almost identical, demonstrating that the genetic relatedness was not dependent on geographical location. All sequences displayed a deep divergence between symbionts from different genera and a high degree of host specificity.