Gamma- and epsilonproteobacterial ectosymbionts of a shallow-water marine worm are related to deep-sea hydrothermal vent ectosymbionts


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The marine oligochaete worm Tubificoides benedii is often found in high numbers in eutrophic coastal sediments with low oxygen and high sulfide concentrations. A dense biofilm of filamentous bacteria on the worm's tail end were morphologically described over 20 years ago, but no further studies of these epibiotic associations were done. In this study, we used fluorescence in situ hybridization and comparative sequence analysis of 16S rRNA and protein-coding genes to characterize the microbial community of the worm's tail ends. The presence of genes involved in chemoautotrophy (cbbL and cbbM) and sulfur metabolism (aprA) indicated the potential of the T. benedii microbial community for chemosynthesis. Two filamentous ectosymbionts were specific to the worm's tail ends: one belonged to the Leucothrix mucor clade within the Gammaproteobacteria and the other to the Thiovulgaceae within the Epsilonproteobacteria. Both T. benedii ectosymbionts belonged to clades that consisted almost exclusively of bacteria associated with invertebrates from deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Such close relationships between symbionts from shallow-water and deep-sea hosts that are not closely related to each other are unusual, and indicate that biogeography and host affiliation did not play a role in these associations. Instead, similarities between the dynamic environments of vents and organic-rich mudflats with their strong fluctuations in reductants and oxidants may have been the driving force behind the establishment and evolution of these symbioses.