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An experimental test of the symbiosis specificity between the ciliate Paramecium bursaria and strains of the unicellular green alga Chlorella


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*E-mail ruben.sommaruga@uibk.ac.at; Tel. (+43) 512 507 6121; Fax (+43) 512 507 6190.


The ciliate Paramecium bursaria living in mutualistic relationship with the unicellular green alga Chlorella is known to be easily infected by various potential symbionts/parasites such as bacteria, yeasts and other algae. Permanent symbiosis, however, seems to be restricted to Chlorella taxa. To test the specificity of this association, we designed infection experiments with two aposymbiotic P. bursaria strains and Chlorella symbionts isolated from four Paramecium strains, seven other ciliate hosts and two Hydra strains, as well as three free-living Chlorella species. Paramecium bursaria established stable symbioses with all tested Chlorella symbionts of ciliates, but never with symbiotic Chlorella of Hydra viridissima or with free-living Chlorella. Furthermore, we tested the infection specificity of P. bursaria with a 1:1:1 mixture of three compatible Chlorella strains, including the native symbiont, and then identified the strain of the newly established symbiosis by sequencing the internal transcribed spacer region 1 of the 18S rRNA gene. The results indicated that P. bursaria established symbiosis with its native symbiont. We conclude that despite clear preferences for their native Chlorella, the host–symbiont relationship in P. bursaria is flexible.