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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1999 Nov;65(11):4926-34.

Phylogenetic diversity of nitrogen fixation genes in the symbiotic microbial community in the gut of diverse termites.

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  • 1The Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) and Japan Science and Technology Corporation (JST), Wako, Saitama 351-0198, Japan. mohkuma@mailman.riken.go.jp

Abstract

Nitrogen fixation by the microorganisms in the gut of termites is one of the crucial aspects of symbiosis, since termites usually thrive on a nitrogen-poor diet. The phylogenetic diversity of the nitrogen-fixing organisms within the symbiotic community in the guts of various termite species was investigated without culturing the resident microorganisms. A portion of the dinitrogenase reductase gene (nifH) was directly amplified from DNA extracted from the mixed population in the termite gut. Analysis of deduced amino acid sequences of the products of the clonally isolated nifH genes revealed the presence of diverse nifH sequences in most of the individual termite species, and their constituents were considerably different among termite species. A majority of the nifH sequences from six lower termites, which showed significant levels of nitrogen fixation activity, could be assigned to either the anaerobic nif group (consisting of clostridia and sulfur reducers) or the alternative nif methanogen group among the nifH phylogenetic groups. In the case of three higher termites, which showed only low levels of nitrogen fixation activity, a large number of the sequences were assigned to the most divergent nif group, probably functioning in some process other than nitrogen fixation and being derived from methanogenic archaea. The nifH groups detected were similar within each termite family but different among the termite families, suggesting an evolutionary trend reflecting the diazotrophic habitats in the symbiotic community. Within these phylogenetic groups, the sequences from the termites formed lineages distinct from those previously recognized in studies using classical microbiological techniques, and several sequence clusters unique to termites were found. The results indicate the presence of diverse potentially nitrogen-fixing microbial assemblages in the guts of termites, and the majority of them are as yet uncharacterized.

PMID:
10543805
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC91663
Free PMC Article

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