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Summary

Termite gut flagellates are colonized by host-specific lineages of ectosymbiotic and endosymbiotic bacteria. Previous studies have shown that flagellates of the genus Trichonympha may harbour more than one type of symbiont. Using a comprehensive approach that combined cloning of SSU rRNA genes with fluorescence in situ hybridization and electron microscopy, we investigated the phylogeny and subcellular locations of the symbionts in a variety of Trichonympha species from different termites. The flagellates in Trichonympha Cluster I were the only species associated with ‘Endomicrobia’, which were located in the posterior part of the cell, confirming previous results. Trichonympha species of Cluster II from the termite genus Incisitermes (family Kalotermitidae) lacked ‘Endomicrobia’ and were associated with endosymbiotic Actinobacteria, which is highly unusual. The endosymbionts, for which we suggest the name ‘Candidatus Ancillula trichonymphae’, represent a novel, deep-branching lineage in the Micrococcineae that consists exclusively of clones from termite guts. They preferentially colonized the anterior part of the flagellate host and were highly abundant in all species of Trichonympha Cluster II except Trichonympha globulosa. Here, they were outnumbered by a Desulfovibrio species associated with the cytoplasmic lamellae at the anterior cell pole. Such symbionts are present in both Trichonympha clusters, but not in all species. Unlike the intracellular location reported for the Desulfovibrio symbionts of Trichonympha agilis (Cluster I), the Desulfovibrio symbionts of T. globulosa (Cluster II) were situated in deep invaginations of the plasma membrane that were clearly connected to the exterior of the host cell.