High genetic similarity between two geographically distinct strains of the sulfur-oxidizing symbiont ‘Candidatus Thiobios zoothamnicoli’


  • Editor: Gary King

Correspondence: Christian Rinke, School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99163, USA. Tel.: +1 509 335 7281; fax: +1 509 335 3184; e-mail: rinke@gmx.at


The giant marine ciliate Zoothamnium niveum (Ciliophora, Oligohymenophora) is obligatorily covered by a monolayer of putative chemoautotrophic sulfur-oxidizing (thiotrophic) bacteria. For Z. niveum specimens from the Caribbean Sea it has been demonstrated that this ectosymbiotic population consists of only a single pleomorphic phylotype described as Candidatus Thiobios zoothamnicoli. The goal of our study was to identify and phylogenetically analyse the ectosymbiont(s) of a recently discovered Z. niveum population from the Mediterranean Sea, and to compare marker genes encoding key enzymes of the carbon and sulfur metabolism between the two symbiont populations. We identified a single bacterial phylotype representing the ectosymbiont of Z. niveum from the Mediterranean population showing 99.7% 16S rRNA gene (99.2% intergenic spacer region) similarity to the Caribbean Z. niveum ectosymbiont. Genes encoding enzymes typical for an inorganic carbon metabolism [ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RuBisCO)] and for sulfur metabolism (5′-adenylylsulfate reductase, dissimilatory sulfite reductase) were detected in both symbiotic populations. The very high amino acid sequence identity (97–100%) and the high nucleic acid sequence identity (90–98%) of these marker enzymes in two geographically distant symbiont populations suggests that the association of Z. niveum with Cand. Thiobios zoothamnicoli is very specific as well as temporally and spatially stable.