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Keywords:

  • 16S rRNA;
  • gut bacteria;
  • Macrotermes;
  • polyethism;
  • symbiosis;
  • termite

Abstract

The fungus-growing termites Macrotermes cultivate the obligate ectosymbiontic fungi, Termitomyces. While their relationship has been extesively studied, little is known about the gut bacterial symbionts, which also presumably play a crucial role for the nutrition of the termite host. In this study, we investigated the bacterial gut microbiota in two colonies of Macrotermes gilvus, and compared the diversity and community structure of bacteria among nine termite morphotypes, differing in caste and/or age, using terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) and clonal analysis of 16S rRNA. The obtained molecular community profiles clustered by termite morphotype rather than by colony, and the clustering pattern was clearly more related to a difference in age than to caste. Thus, we suggest that the bacterial gut microbiota change in relation to the food of the termite, which comprises fallen leaves and the fungus nodules of Termitomyces in young workers, and leaves degraded by the fungi, in old workers. Despite these intracolony variations in bacterial gut microbiota, their T-RFLP profiles formed a distinct cluster against those of the fungus garden, adjacent soil and guts of sympatric wood-feeding termites, implying a consistency and uniqueness of gut microbiota in M. gilvus. Since many bacterial phylotypes from M. gilvus formed monophyletic clusters with those from distantly related termite species, we suggest that gut bacteria have co-evolved with the termite host and form a microbiota specific to a termite taxonomic and/or feeding group, and furthermore, to caste and age within a termite species.