• Open Access

Molecular characterization of the symbionts associated with marine nematodes of the genus Robbea


  • This is contribution number 856 of the Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems Program (CCRE), Smithsonian Institution, supported in part by the Hunterdon Oceanographic Research Endowment.

  • Re-use of this article is permitted in accordance with the Creative Commons Deed, Attribution 2.5, which does not permit commercial exploitation.

*E-mail silvia.bulgheresi@univie.ac.at; Tel. (+43) 1427754457; Fax (+43) 142779542.


Marine nematodes that carry sulfur-oxidizing bacteria on their cuticle (Stilbonematinae, Desmodoridae) migrate between oxidized and reduced sand layers thereby supplying their symbionts with oxygen and sulfide. These symbionts, in turn, constitute the worms' major food source. Due to the accessibility, abundance and relative simplicity of this association, stilbonematids may be useful to understand symbiosis establishment. Nevertheless, only the symbiont of Laxus oneistus has been found to constitute one single phylotype within the Gammaproteobacteria. Here, we characterized the symbionts of three yet undescribed nematodes that were morphologically identified as members of the genus Robbea. They were collected at the island of Corsica, the Cayman Islands and the Belize Barrier Reef. The surface of these worms is covered by a single layer of morphologically undistinguishable bacteria. 18S rDNA-based phylogenetic analysis showed that all three species belong to the Stilbonematinae, although they do not form a distinct cluster within that subfamily. 16S rDNA-based analysis of the symbionts placed them interspersed in the cluster comprising the sulfur-oxidizing symbionts of L. oneistus and of marine gutless oligochaetes. Finally, the presence and phylogeny of the aprA gene indicated that the symbionts of all three nematodes can use reduced sulfur compounds as an energy source.